Gutwhale is a small-scale action roguelite developed by Stuffed Wombat and published by Ratalaika Games. True to its name (and very strangely), the game seems to take place in a dilapidated apartment building inside a whale’s gut, and it takes a decent amount of inspiration from the rougelite game Gonner.
I say that it’s small in scale because the game is made up of only three short levels, each with four quick rooms to complete. You start by choosing which hat to wear. Each hat has different effects on the gameplay such as making you jump higher or earning more points which double as currency. The hats also have different starting health values; the plain hat has three hearts, the construction helmet which gives you strong calves – allowing you to jump higher – gives you two hearts, and the score boosting “cool hat” only gives one as a means of risk/reward. Once you choose your hat you can start the game by falling down the hole on the right side of the room.
The character has a basic move set which includes shooting left or right and a low jump. The player can hover in the air for a split second while jumping if they hold the jump button, and this has a secondary function of letting the player shoot downwards. This element of gameplay can feel awkward at first but once you get the hang of it you’ll be killing enemies from all angles (actually I guess only three angles) but still, it’s a nicely implemented mechanic that gives this small game some depth.
The gameplay consists of avoiding enemies, killing these enemies, and making your way down the gastrointestinal apartment building. You are equipped with a gun; however, this gun can only have one bullet loaded at a time. Luckily the bullets can be reused and when you hit an enemy with a shot the bullet usually bounces in the air a little. If you reacquire the bullet before it hits the ground, you can build your combo meter and get a higher score. Some of the enemies move in set patterns while others will move towards you. A few of them fire projectiles. If you get hit the game pauses and you lose a life. You can respawn by pressing B at which point you fall back into the room with a loaded gun, meaning that there are two bullets currently in the room, and you can reload your gun with either one. This mechanic makes the game a little easier each time you take a hit (until you get a game over), which is a nice implementation of a negative feedback loop. The first room in each level has one enemy, the second two, and eventually four in the fourth and final room of each level. Once you defeat all the enemies in a room the floor will crumble causing you and any loose bullets to fall down to the next level. To give you an upper hand there are exclamation points indicating where the next enemies are so you can shoot down and kill them as you are falling.
The art style and sound design in Gutwhale are very similar to those elements in Gonner, except the art style in this makes use of pixel art, falling somewhere on the lower end of 16-bit. Overall the aesthetic is pleasing, even if some elements are kind of strange. The gameplay area in the building only takes up the center part of the screen and the rest of the screen is filled with what clearly looks like whale guts. That sounds kind of nasty, but I assure you it actually looks pretty cool. There is also an option in the menu to increase the bulge of the screen, it has three settings: off, on, and extreme, which makes the gameplay area look bulged out and warps the perspective a bit. For some reason when I switched to the extreme bulge setting I started crushing it in the game, so maybe you should give it a try. The title screen art and the final ending art (if you can find it) are both very well done; hopefully, the next game this developer makes will feature higher detailed art like this. If I closed my eyes and just listened to the sound design of this and Gonner I don’t think I could tell the difference, I guess you could say that’s copying, but on the other hand, they do both sound really good. This includes the music as well as the “bleepy-bloopy” sounding sound effects.
Once you get the hang of the game you’ll be able to beat it in less than two minutes, and there isn’t much extra content at all besides the achievements and the “hidden ending”. I will admit though that I did have that “one more try” feeling as I was playing it. All the achievements can be earned in a little less than an hour. Supposedly there’s an endless mode that lets you play more than the normal three levels, I looked around a bit but couldn’t figure out how to initiate it.
Gutwhale is a fun little roguelite. It has a nice set of mechanics and gameplay elements even though they are very limited. It is somewhat odd (I forgot to mention how a van falls down into the level every time you get a game over), but it has some charm and is one of the better games in Ratalaika’s catalog.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.