Games can take us to worlds unknown, post-apocalyptic nightmares, idyllic paradises and everything in between. Gutwhale, on the other hand, takes us deep into the belly of the beast. Quite literally.
In Gutwhale, you must travel through an action roguelite to escape the digestive system of a hulking marine mammal. Each level is randomly generated, and you can only progress after defeating all the enemies. You are given a gun, but with a catch; it only has one bullet and after a pull of the trigger, that bullet needs to be retrieved.
As you descend deeper into the guts, the enemies you will face become more nightmarish. Floating skulls, mini spaceships and even vicious frogs; this whale has swallowed a huge variety of unusual enemies for you.
Things start off relatively cutely with meandering pink blobs on the floor and peaceful-looking fish things. Don’t be fooled. Everything that moves in Gutwhale is designed to kill you, and it only has to touch you to achieve this.
Gutwhale’s artstyle reminds a little bit of Butcher, Carrion and Super Meat Boy. Dark, foreboding environments with viscera and gore lining the walls. Enemy carcasses will lay strewn on the floor long after they have been killed, but so will your own if you aren’t careful.
Lose all your lives and a huge VW campervan will crush you. Again, presumably swallowed by the whale at some point or other.
Thankfully though, you do have a number of tricks at your disposal. At the start of each run you can equip a hat. These hats can give you a higher jump, more lives or more points, and more can be unlocked during a run, providing you have the points to spend.
The best way to rack up points is to get a combo going; after each kill you should try and catch the bullet before it hits the floor and doing so keeps the combo meter going. There is no time limit either – just make sure it doesn’t hit the floor. Points can be spent at the end of each level on hats, lives, additional bullets and score multipliers.
Action is frenetically paced and usually over in a few seconds. Defeat all the enemies in a room and the floor quickly disappears and you’re straight into the action once again. You only have a brief moment to survey the scene beneath you and where is the safest place to land. Most enemies only require one hit to defeat them – depending on where you hit them that is – but likewise, so do you.
Just as well then that it is Optimised for Xbox Series X|S and runs at a super sweet 4K and 60fps+ throughout.
But completing the game is just the beginning. Which is just as well, because Gutwhale only has three distinct levels: that’s short by anyone’s count. As with any roguelite, you will very unlikely finish it off in your first, third or tenth try. There aren’t any upgrades to unlock – aside from the hats – it is purely down to getting good at Gutwhale. Or having a friendlier procedural generation for that run.
Complete all three levels in one run and you are rewarded with a secret room to investigate. In here are five blocks pertaining to a different objective to complete in Gutwhale; beat the game, kill 50 frogs, beat the game in two minutes, get 400 points and reach a combo of ten. Any that you have already unlocked will be illuminated, whilst those still locked will not. You can then jump back into Gutwhale to attempt any of those that are still locked.
Illuminated blocks have a secondary purpose, however. Above this secret room where they are housed is a tall open space with a sliver of light seeping through. Perhaps these blocks can be moved into this space and positioned as platforms?
Gutwhale is also another Ratalaika Games port which means a low price point and super easy achievements. To give credit though, Gutwhale is definitely on the more difficult side of things for a Ratalaika game, but it is still far and away an easy 1000G.
Despite the short length, Gutwhale doesn’t feel too simple. There is a simplicity to it, but also a challenge with a sense of satisfaction when you finally hit the bottom. And there is a lot of replayability to it, even after you have illuminated the five blocks and achieved the ‘true’ ending.
You can buy Gutwhale from the Xbox Store right now