Gutwhale is an ambitious retelling of that one part in Pinocchio where he gets stuck inside the stomach of a whale. It’s so ambitious that it doesn’t even cast Pinocchio in it, or follow the story… like at all. Okay, so maybe it’s not a retelling of anything, Gutwhale is actually a roguelite arcade shooter.
The story in the game is… context only for the most part. There’s no real introduction to the character, explanation of the setting, set-up for the hero’s quest, or anything like that. You control a guy, you have a gun and hats, and then you shoot things presumably inside the stomach of a whale. However, the whale seems to have eaten an ever-changing array of apartment buildings because most of the rooms you’ll see are, let’s say, less than organic in appearance. That is at least to begin with.
The gameplay is pretty much as simplistic as the story: you can jump, you can shoot. Where it starts to get a little different from a normal arcade shooter is the shooting. Each time you fire a giant bullet you’ll need to collect it in order to fire again. This makes things a little tricky because you’ll need to aim your shots well or risk leaving your bullet in enemy territory. Along with the shooting is the jumping, and the jump is purposefully floaty (In that you can hold the B button to jump and “air walk”). Where this comes into play is the ability to shoot downwards while in the air. If you place it correctly, you can catch your bullet allowing you to shoot again and increasing your points with a combo.
And that is pretty much it. Shoot enemies, shoot them all to descend, descend enough and you’ll get to the next level, and in between levels you can buy upgrades. These will generally be a choice between an extra Heart (chance), an extra bullet, or a hat. The hats can be chosen in the lobby before starting a run and will have extra effects like increasing your combo points at the expense of a heart or increasing your jumping power.
Unlocked hats are kept between runs so if you can afford them they are the best things to choose generally. But sometimes if you’ve made it pretty far, an extra heart or bullet may turn the tide for you.
The ending of the game can be found in an estimated 1 hour of play (Depending on your skill level), and to collect the hats shouldn’t take much longer. The short play-time sort of makes sense considering the relative lack of content. There are 3 areas, a variety of enemies that have their own move patterns, and that’s about it. The rest of the time is artificially inflated by difficulty or a desire to rack up high combos.
Personally, the short run time of the game worked for me, because I had a terrible time with it. Mostly because it felt unfair and unresponsive. I was using the Switch Pro controller which usually handles quite well, but 90% of the time I was unable to aim downward while moving and shooting which led to repeated deaths that felt cheap. Also, I’m still not sure if it’s a limitation of the game or if I just couldn’t register the input correctly but I was unable to aim upwards, which is quite a hassle considering how many enemies like to float above you.
Graphics and music are nice but nothing notable with many other games out there of equal or higher quality.
Interesting combo system
Collecting bullets adds a level to mindless run and gun
Hats are always fun
No a lot of content
Too difficult for casual players
Can't shoot upwards