Gutwhale Review: Gutsy Retro Rogue-Like

A nasty rogue-like where you're stuck in the belly of the beast with just one bullet. Worse: you have to fetch it each time! Gutwhale on PS4...

Gutwhale is one of the toughest games I’ve played of late. Ratalaika Games – and also Eastasiasoft, who they often partner with – are very prolific, seemingly releasing a game a week.

That’s not entirely true, but they have a knack for finding quirky indie games with a yesteryear charm, instant playability, and equally rewarding play with trophies/achievements. Their last game on here, Infestor, was brilliant – it was exactly as imagined.

Gutwhale, on the other hand, was not. Let’s be clear: a difficult game doesn’t qualify it as a bad one, but even as this review goes up, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Perhaps the lack of score is fair, but let’s aim to be reasonably concise in this Gutwhale review.

Gutwhale Review – PS4

First of all, Gutwhale, developed by Stuffed Wombat, follows the typical tutorial, showing you how to play the game in a safe environment, then heading out into the wild to show off your chops. But play this on your own first, and certainly don’t stream it unless you’re gifted: you’ll die. A lot.

Gutwhale Review - UgMug
UgMug. Source: Ratalaika Games

Not much is explained, and to be frank, it’s not needed. In short, you’re in the belly of the beast and will descend a series of levels until you reach the end. If you die, you go back to the starting pointing – usually with nothing, but if you’re good enough, a nice new hat. More on that in a minute.

There are only three areas, but Spectrum/C64 level challenges where the screen real estate is so simple, but it’s so bloody hard. Armed with a rifle, you start with one bullet – a reusable one. Each time you fire, you have to go pick it up. It’s like a cork gun from the old cartoons, only without a bit of string attached. If only

A Whale Of A Time

Each level in Gutwhale will be a tad more difficult than the last. Creatures crawling on the floor firing projectiles in the air, while skulls drop out of the sky, or toad-like characters hastily attack you. Avoiding these enemies is a challenge in itself, but the onslaught opens when you have to get your bullet back. It’s like, “can we have our ball back?” after kicking it over your neighbour’s fence.

Gutwhale Review - Kermit
Kermit. Source: Ratalaika Games

Do note that this isn’t a platform game – it’s almost like free-falling as you drop down a level each time you clear a room.

It’s a genuine run and gun as you shoot the nearest enemy, hop over those on the floor to pick up your bullet, all the while hoping the Space Invaders-like enemy above you hasn’t descended enough where they will kill you.

What makes this more challenging is there’s no health, plus when you respawn, there’s no real recovery time: these enemies are ruthless! To make your challenge easier, you can unlock power-ups, carry more ammo and hearts. By default, you have a few hearts, but this changes based on the hat you wear.

A Hat Of All Trades

Gutwhale either gives you the option to wear the ugly mask (your face) or a cool cap at the very beginning of the game. The only thing that’s possibly cool about this is if you can pull off wearing it. No, it’s not a socks and sandals statement, but as you only get one life with this, you have to be pretty good at the game to get anywhere with it.

Gutwhale Review - Howdy
Howdy. Source: Ratalaika Games

As you descend further into the fleshy abyss, putting more notches in your belt (a.k.a. kills), you’re given points that can be exchanged for the power-ups mentioned above. Note that they are random, plus you have to get there in the first place.

It’s easy enough to move around each level, and the controls are much tighter than the earlier comparisons to the Speccy and C64. Jumping is relatively tight, and you can shoot down too, which is a godsend for some areas (pending you picked up your bullet).

You can’t be good at everything, and while I don’t claim to be good at anything full stop, I struggled with Gutwhale. You may pick this up and demolish it in one sitting or similar, but for me, it was a little too testing, though strangely, I liked it. 

Gutwhale Review Summary

Who’s it for then? Rogue-like fans who like a challenge (bear in mind that there aren’t any difficulty levels, unless you opt to wear a one-hit-kill hat). There are three areas in total with an endless mode too. While I can’t tell you how it ends (at the moment), for the price, it’s worth having a peek.