Tunic is an action adventure about a tiny fox in a big world. Explore the wilderness, discover spooky ruins, and fight terrible creatures from long ago.
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(7.5/ light 8)
I'll start by saying that the manual mechanic is by far my favourite thing in this game. It so effectively replicates that feeling of reading something in a different language, having to make your own connections and discoveries. I love the games commitment to having even basic game mechanics like upgrading being inputs you have to 'discover'. The golden path was one of the most enjoyable puzzles to put together in a game in recent memory, it was pretty great.
The aesthetics are very on point too. The artstyle is unique and great, the music is great too.
The two points I took from this game are almost entirely due to the gameplay - more specifically the combat. I will preface this by saying that some of the bosses are actually quite good and are a fun challenge, Scavenger Boss and the Heir, for example, have that fun fast-paced feel of a Souls boss.
Having said that, this game feels stuck between two masters in terms of combat design - those being Soulslikes and Zelda. One of the reasons soulslike combat is so successful is because it gives a lot of options to the player - jumping attacks, running attacks, rolling attacks, plunging attacks, and most of these double as there are light and heavy versions of each. Tunic, however, has one combo. One sword, one combo with three hits. The. Entire. Game. With a game with so much time dedicated to combat I do not understand why it has so few options on the player end. The answer, I think, is because it is trying to emulate Zelda, where link only has one sword and one combo. The combat is far too simplistic as a result, and it brings down what could have been an incredible game into something which is just a solid game.
Tunic is often referred to as a Zelda inspired adventure and although there are clear indicators that would prove this accurate, I found it to be more closely related to games such as Death’s Door and Hollow Knight that have a clearer Souls-like feel. So, a Zelda Souls-like? That feels about right and let me tell you, this 12-hour adventure is a hell of a good time, as long as you appreciate some hair pulling moments of challenge.
Like Kena: Bridge of Spirits, there are difficulty ramps, especially with the bosses, that disrupt the flow of the game. Some of these bosses are punishing and your health/stamina/magic management is going to be the key for success.
What is unique about Tunic is the instruction booklet that you will piece together page by page as you find them throughout the world. The game has its own language and for a good part of the game, you will have no idea what is going on. As you collect pages, you will learn about items, gameplay elements, maps, secret locations, lore, and much more. That sense of discovery was actually really cool, and I felt a feeling of accomplishment when I realized things, for example, how to upgrade my stats without first finding the instructions on how to do it.
The controls of the game are really tight and well executed and there are so many secrets passages to find. I can’t tell you how many times I went through an area just to find a path that went behind a rock or building that would have allowed me to completely bypass an area. It never annoyed me, in fact, I was always impressed by it. I would slap my knee and be like, “them sons o bitches, they got me good.”
Also, for a cute a game as this, the story is quite a downer and not what I initially expected, that is unless you figure out the way to fully complete the game and unlock the good ending.
I definitely recommend you give Tunic a shot, the obscureness and difficulty is sure to turn people off, but if you take the time to upgrade and learn the gameplay, you’ll find that this little gem is 100% worth your time.
Here is an interesting gameplay tip I learned by accident:
- The Ice Dagger is clutch as it freezes enemies and allows you to get some good hits in, it is a heavy magic user, only allowing you 3 casts to start.
- The Holy Cross shoots a fire beam at enemies and is great for enemies at a distance or flying enemies. It doesn’t use as much magic, allowing you 16 shots to start.
- Did you know you could equip both items and if you press both buttons at the same time it will shoot an ice beam that freezes and damages enemies? Which means instead of just 3 cast to freeze, you can do the full 16 of the Holy Cross? You do now.
Time: 12 Hours
Whenever I play a game, one of the questions that pop up occasionally is "Is there a point to playing this as opposed to another, similar game?". In most cases, I am able to find stuff that makes the game stand out, and the question goes away. And to be fair to Tunic, there were times playing this were I genuinly felt myself getting impressed with some of the design choices. Unfortunately, those moments were constantly interrupted by a quite different, more negative feeling, and it led me to be kinda…meh…on the experience as a whole.
First of all, let's talk about visuals. The artstyle is cute, the textures look nice. I do think that this type of simplistic cutesy style is starting to bore me a little bit though. It's impossible not to draw connections between this and Death's Door from last year, and in terms of visuals, I think they stack up pretty evenly. Still, even though Tunic's graphics are kinda unoriginal, the game is pleasant to look at, and that's what matters most. Another thing I liked was the focus on visual storytelling. The lack of dialogue made it even more important to get character animations and expressions right, and I think they did a good job. The way the game communicates different things isn't always perfect, but it was kinda nice to not have to understand a bunch of cryptic dialogue in order to progress.
By far Tunic's greatest strength though, is the level design. The world is very compact, feels mostly good to explore, and I really liked how a lot of the shortcuts are present from the very start, just very difficult to find from the wrong side. It's a feature that's gonna help trim the fat on subsequent playthroughs, as well as rewarding meticulous players going through an area the first time. Granted, I am not a person to play games multiple times, and I don't think I ever found one of the shortcuts early, but the inclusion of them is really cool. As for the individual areas, they're fine. Some of them look kinda bland, and even the more interesting ones fall right into already existing archetypes. The bosses you encounter is the highlight of the game. Even though some of them are kinda similar in theme, they all feel nice to fight, and they all require different strategies, Which I thought was nice. The enemy designs are also good, and there is enougb variety to keep things fresh for the majority of the game.
When it comes to the combat, I could probably fill an entire review just talking about it alone, but let's just say it's not good. First of all, it's all taken straight from Dark Souls, but with none of the nuance. It's very sluggish, it takes your guy forever to swing and enemies are staggered for about 0.2 seconds. The slow roll makes it kinda hard to time your dodges. It's also very annoying how enemies will show a stagger animation when you hit them but it doesn't interrupt their windup, making it much harder to judge when to dodge if you're attacking them in the middle of a windup, which you'll almost always do against bosses because they have almost no rest time between attacks. The stamina system is the worst part though. Stamina regeneration pauses while drinking from the healing flask, but combat does not, so god help you if you're low on health and stamina at the same time, because there's no way you'll be able to drink and then regenerate enough stamina before the next attack hits. And you can't use your shield while tired so you're basically dead if you're up against an enemy with a large attack. The fact that you take more damage when you're out of stamina is a terrible mechanic, as running out of it is basically a death sentence. And you'll end up doing that a lot, because the game loves to put you in situations where you're hit with a lot of consecutive attacks, and fuck you if you get hit by the very last one, because it's likely to take away at least 60% of your health, and often more against bosses with harder attacks. I like stamina management, but at least make it fair.
The most important original idea in this game is the manual, and conceptually it's very clever. Building your own helpers book by finding pages throughout the world rewards exploration and meticulous backtracking, and visually it's really neat. I like the way it's structured, I liked the little scribblings and coffee stains, as if it was an actual, irl manual. Unfortunately, while the manual is a good idea, its implementation could have been a lot better in my opinion. This is a game where figuring things out without any help is borderline impossible at times. That's why you have the manual, so you can look at hints. My only question is this: If the manual is so crucial to understanding the game, then why the FUCK is the order and way you find the pages so random? A lot of the time you'll end up accidentally figuring out the different mechanics on your own, and you have to, because the game doesn't give you the right page until in the endgame, and at that point the page has basically been reduced to a collectible. Granted, you are required to find all pages before completing the final puzzle to get the true ending, but the fact that a lot of the information ends up being completely useless really got on my nerves. The opposite effect is also sometimes true. Some of the puzzles are absolutely unsolvable by yourself, but because the pages are scattered seemingly at random, your basically forced to wait until you stumble upon the right page, and at that point you're likely to have forgotten the puzzle in the first place.
Storywise this game really could've used some refining. First of all, the structure of this game literally could not get more boring. It starts out by ripping off Dark Souls and other games by making you ring two bells, one on each side of the map. Then, once that's done, it immediately goes over into Zelda territory by making you collect three magic keys, colored blue, red and green. On top of that, the pacing gets progessively worse as you get further, and the endgame just felt tedious, I found no fun at all in going around restoring your body.
What's worse than the bland structure though, is how the game never really managed to make me care about the story. I think a lot of it has something to do with the lack of characters. I feel like games with a lack of designated story-progressing cutscenes need to have good character, because it's through them we as the players end up connecting with the world. Death's Door wasn't perfect, but at least it understood this. This game has nothing to latch on to, the game expects you to connect to the lore with no motivation at all, and I'm sorry, but the worldbuilding simply isn't good enough for that. On top of that, the game has the audacity to not even give you a final boss when you get the true ending. This is probably the game's biggest missteps, because as I said, the boss fights are the best parts of this game, and not giving you one when you've gone out of your way to complete the manual felt outstandingly lame, and resulted in me not leaving the game on a high note at all.
So Tl,dr: Tunic is a game with solid graphics, some good level design and a neat way of giving you information, but it's also plagued from beginning to end by a forgettable story and annoying combat. Sorry for the wall of text, but I really wanted to make myself clear here. I didn't hate Tunic, it does quite a few things right and some ideas are definietly worth exploring further, but the final product ended up being a very mixed bag with a lot of frustrating design choices. I can't really think of many reasons to play this over some of the classic Zelda style games that have been out for years, and I doubt I will think much of this after posting this.
This review contains spoilers
I have some mixed feelings about Tunic. Ultimately I think there's a lot to love about this game. I love cute shit, and goddamn this shit is cute. The art direction and the graphics are praise worthy and a lot of my enjoyment of this game came from just going around and looking for new stuff to be awestruck by. How the lighting system looks in new areas, the wonderfully detailed enemy animations, and that instruction manual is pure gold.
Normally, when a game gets this reaction from me, it's usually coupled with this sense of emersion and desire to get lost in the world the game creates. This wasn't really the case with Tunic however. I think that's partially due to it's semi meta world building.
There's elements in this game's world that imply it's a world designed to be played in. (How do I put this?) You know how Sonic levels are designed in such an over the top way that, you might take a step back and ask yourself why these loop-dee-loops are in the middle of a dense jungle? Seemingly they're there only so the player has something to do and not because it logically makes sense for this obstacle to exist in this world, unless it is the world of a video game.
There are things that imply Tunic's world works in a similar capacity. Whether this is the use of certain iconography familiar to classic top down adventure games (The titular green Tunic, keys, fire balls etc) The fact that the game's manual is also an in game collectable also seems to imply that this is a video game world. These things coupled with the very video gamey task of ringing two bells to open a door, and the later gathering 3 orbs to open another door without much explanation (other than an esoteric implication) as to what impact these tasks would have on the world of the game beyond the player's progression, acts as a barrier for emersion to occur, because you don't know what is at stake or what the true consequences or your actions are.
Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Emersion is not the be-all-end-all for what makes a video game worthy of appreciation. Gameplay can certainly carry a great video game, but I wasn't super in love with the gameplay of Tunic either. I liked it a lot at first but it slowly grated on me the more hours I sank into it. The last 1/4 of the game definitely being the nail in the coffin where you're stripped on all the level advantages you were building throughout the rest of the game and sent on a quest to get them back, acting as blatant content padding.
Don't really know what to put as a conclusion to all that. I thought the game was good overall despite personal gripes. If you got this far thank you for reading :) stay warm stay safe.