Developer: Andrew Shouldice
Release Date: March 16th, 2022
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PC, Mac (as of 3/19/2022)
Reviewed On: Xbox Series X
Formerly known during production as Secret Legend, Tunic has had a lengthy history–it was first announced at E3 2017 while partnering up with publisher Finji. It made another appearance the following year; however, Tunic did not see release until March 22. This single-developer indie game has been highly anticipated by many, especially those who hold The Legend of Zelda franchise in high regard. Now that the brave, sword-wielding anthropomorphic fox is ready for adventure, how does Tunic shake out as a video game?
Tunic opens with a fox, your playable protagonist, waking up on a beach. There is minimal information as to how you arrived there and why you are here. In fact, this game offers minimal hand-holding in all aspects, including the narrative–forcing the player to piece together the puzzles from exploring the over world. You can glean story beats from various landmarks and interactions with voiceless entities such as the skeleton that sells your items.
VISUALS/SOUND: The visuals in Tunic are perhaps one of its strongest points. The game is played in isometric view; however, the graphics are as pleasing to the eyes as any 3D title. The colors are vivid, and the art direction is adorable. If you think cutting grass in Zelda was fun, Tunic makes it even more satisfying as you chop the cube-like shrubs to gain access to new areas. Colors play an important role as you unravel the mystery behind Tunic. Some scenes are very “trippy” in nature, filling my brain with every color imaginable (although blue, red, and green are the primary focus).
The music in Tunic can be best described as lo-fi. It brings about a level of calm and relaxation, perhaps to combat the frustration whenever you cannot figure out what to do next. Although the music was lovely, I personally did not find it matching the fox’s adventuring throughout a strange land..
GAMEPLAY: The gameplay overall runs as smooth as butter. The controls and movement are clear and intuitive–you have a roll/dash, block/shield, healing, and three buttons to assign weapons such as your sword or magic staff. Much like any metroidvania, you can only progress through certain areas after obtaining an item. Because of this, Tunic prioritizes exploration, which I wholeheartedly welcomed because the world-building is fantastic. Due to the cryptic nature of this game, I wanted to explore every nook and cranny in hopes to put the puzzle pieces together.
Speaking of world-building, there have been several times where the isometric view and design has caused me to miss a few vital areas. Sometimes, it is not obvious–or even easy–to spot passageways because it is tucked behind a waterfall or at the far end of a corridor that is otherwise covered by the ceiling. There have been many times where I re-visited an area and literally had to trace the walls to see what I have missed.
The battles in this game are challenging, especially since there are several enemies you meet before you obtain your sword and shield. The roll mechanic is key; however, one of the many tips (on those pieces of paper you pick up) explain that you are dealt more damage when your stamina meter is low or depleted. All of this makes fighting all the more nuanced than, say, your standard Zelda game. When you die, you do leave behind what looks like your “soul”, and when you return and press A, you receive some currency back and causes the environment around you to quake–which can stall some enemies around you. Because of the difficulties and mechanics surrounding battle and defeat, some players harken it to a souls-like. When looking up more on this, I did stumble upon an article that mentions that Andrew Shouldice developed the game to have more old-school Nintendo difficulty than a Souls-like feel.
There are several items you pick up in this game such as explosives, effigies, lures, fire bombs, and ice bombs. You assign your items by hitting the right bumper (if on Xbox); however, beware! This does not pause the game. I have learned this lesson the hard way. Mid-battle, I would run out of magic for my magic staff, so when I go to my item screen to eat some blue berries, the enemies continue to swarm me. By then, I am hitting every button in a state of panic, and somehow end up equipping my wooden stick before dying…for the hundredth time.
Tunic has an simple healing and upgrading system. Whenever you stumble upon a fox shrine, you can heal; however, this will also revive any enemies you have slain. At this same shrine, you offer select items and money to boost your health, attack, defense, and much more.
My final comment surrounds the white pages you pick up throughout the game. The more you collect, the more of a “guide” you put together. This is a clever way to teach your gamers about Tunic, its world and gameplay, although like with most things in this title, it is written in a different language. It certainly can be frustrating when banging your head against the wall, trying to figure out what the wells are for or even what signs say. What endears me to the game is that many of the graphics in this guide are hand-drawn, and shows deep love and care for Tunic.
Tunic is well-deserving of praise after its long development. There are sincere nods to the Zelda franchise and executes well on sense of mystery and exploration (and a silent protagonist). Tunic still holds its own identity with less hand-holding and a real sense of difficulty. Although I wish I understood the language within the game, it did give me a deep sense of immersion–like I felt exactly what my fox protagonist was feeling: lost and in need for answers.
This title is beautiful and well-designed with clear fantasy elements with a sprinkling of hidden technology. What’s it all there for? Well, you need to play to find out.
There is no doubt that Tunic is more challenging than your average, modern game. It does not coddle you, but rather, throws you into the fire, making dying a normal experience. The learning curve is steep–especially with boss battles–and I do feel that without a deep hook in the narrative, it is possible that Tunic could be at risk for losing players in the first hour or two. Normally, players will hang onto a game despite its difficulty because they are following an intriguing story line or there is a reward for “getting good”. I would say Tunic is simply challenging–just like the dev said–like the old Nintendo days. At first, I was tempted to give up, but I am glad I pressed on as I was rewarded a beautiful world and a mystery to solve.
As of 3/16/2022, Tunic is available on Game Pass, so there is no excuse not to give this game a go!
Sources: RockPaperShotgun fire