Gutwhale is a single screened action platformer that is all about managing a limited ammo reserve while maintaining the space between enemies. This is a roguelite, since the stages are randomly generated with each attempt, but there is a definitive ending. In fact, the game can be beaten in just over one minute and its brevity is one of its greatest strengths.
To better understand Gutwhale, I recommend checking out my stream embedded below:
Playing as a man venturing deeper within the guts of a whale, each portion of the stage takes place on one screen. Armed with a pistol and a single bullet, the player needs to defeat each enemy on the screen to progress. Once all the enemies are gone, the bottom drops and the player falls deeper, presented with a challenge that grows with each passing screen. The gimmick, however, is the bullet system. After every shot, the player needs to reclaim the bullet to shoot again. This might sound tedious on paper but actually becomes one of the reasons why the gameplay is so addicting. Since you cannot shoot rapid fire, each shot is critical. In fact, missing or not shooting fast enough could be that one mistake that sends you back to the beginning to try again.
Yes, death sends you back to the start like any rogue title but this isn’t a nuisance. If you die, you are only going to lose a minute of progress, maybe two at the most, so restarting isn’t that big of a deal. The combination of enemies, the level design, and the retrieving bullet system is designed in a way that is tough but always fair. Each time I died, yeah, I would curse, but I knew it was always my fault. Wanting to do better, and knowing I could do better, is the driving force and makes the gameplay so compelling. Finishing each stage also gives the player the option to rejuvenate some health, put on a different hat which acts as a creative gameplay modifier, or add an extra bullet to the holster. This decision could easily determine the success of the run and is often a difficult choice.
The 2D pixel art is also well done and the few musical tunes compliment the gameplay quite well. Without spoiling too much, the player can active a secret ending after the game has been completed one time. How the player goes about this is rather creative and breaks the fourth wall which is pretty cool and took me some time to figure it out. Also, I was able to snag that Platinum Trophy without too much hassle so Trophy (or Achievement) hunters should take note.
My biggest complaint, although somewhat minor, comes from the controls. The player has the capability to jump then shoot downward when in the air. However, shooting down takes time and doesn’t feel intuitive. I also wish I could shoot upward, like in Contra or Metal Slug, but there is no option for this. An upward shot would actually break the game as it is designed so it is excusable but feels like a strange omission for a run-and-gun action platformer.
Gutwhale is one of those sleeper hit games that hits all the right notes. It only costs a few bucks, has addictive gameplay, thoughtful design, great in short bursts, and an easy way to earn some Trophies. This also proves the point that short games can be just as enchanting as bigger budget titles.
Also available on Switch, Xbox One, and PC.
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