Tunic is an isometric action-adventure game developed by Andrew Shouldice and published by Finji. Inspired by the classic Legend of Zelda games, Tunic puts you in the shoes of a fox in a, you guessed it, tunic and plops you on a beach to start your adventure in this strange yet familiar world. The similarities to early Zelda games are evident throughout the experience, almost to a fault. The combat, audio and world all take different inspirations from the series.
The art style is somewhat geometric, which is the first differentiation you notice. The trees and landscape are cute little triangles and other shapes which really set the game apart from other similar titles. Isometric style action-adventure games generally have stylised worlds, but this is the first time I’ve played a game where the world is almost totally angular in appearance, giving the aforementioned geometric vibe. Sharp corners and straight lines make up everything from the grass to the mountains, and it all comes together to form a beautiful land.
Another area that sets Tunic apart is the combat. It’s not complex, a three-hit sword combo, dodge roll and shield block make up a generic loop. The games combat plays very much like a Souls-borne style system. The player is punished almost immediately for any mis-timed sword swing or dodge by instant death. This is the biggest difference to Zelda as the game is very difficult. I personally am not the type of gamer that plays Souls games, so it was a shock for me getting into this, as I had no expectation of what it would be like. Once the player works out enemies’ patterns though, they can clear them out with ease while feeling a sense of achievement in doing so. Overall, the combat system is fun for a few hours. It seems to get a bit clunky and tiresome after a while. The fact that enemies and traps can damage each other is a bonus, making battles more immersive. Boss fights are a highlight by bringing variation and creativity to a system that needs some kinks ironed out. Things like being able to equip more than four items (including your sword) or having the inventory menu pause the game rather than just open over the top of the battle would be an improvement.
Drawing more inspiration from the Souls games, the player collects flasks that are used to heal a small bit of HP and are only refilled when sitting at a fire. The “fireplaces” in Tunic are statues that light up when the player interacts with them, acting as a save of sorts. When the player is killed, they will respawn back at the last statue, and must defeat any enemies they had already bested to return to their spirit where they were last killed and collect any dropped items.
Tunic’s exploration is somewhat of a Metroid Vania style in that you will need to return to the same spot multiple times after completing puzzles and acquiring items that allow you to open new paths. Some players may enjoy this style of gameplay, but it tends to constantly give the feeling that the player is missing something and the even worse feeling of being “stuck”. Nothing is worse in a game than not knowing what you are meant to do, and Tunic delivered that feeling on multiple occasions. The developer compounded this by swapping almost all readable script in the game with a made-up language.
The instructions or game manual is presented using an interesting mechanic where each page is a collectable scattered throughout the world. Whenever you collect a page, it is added to an eighties/nineties inspired game manual that you can bring up and flip through. The player learns new mechanics and information using the manual pages. They are mostly in unreadable runes which adds another layer of difficulty, but it just seems unnecessary and annoying.
While the world was interesting, it doesn’t take long for the player to realise that there is next to no story content to be found. Waking up on a beach is a nod to games of the past, but that is essentially all the player gets in terms of where this fox came from, why it is here, or what it is trying to achieve.
Something that really took my breath away was the lighting. The way the sunlight rippled and reflected, and shadows rendered perfectly was astonishing and a real feat of design. The graphical fidelity as a whole was essentially perfect, no missteps or glitches to be seen throughout my 10 hour playthrough. Tunic is a beautiful game.
Tunic, while looking like a cute and cuddly adventure is far from a family game, the kids (and some adults) will find it extremely difficult and off-putting at face value. Luckily the developer has seemingly thought of that and added some toggles that make it easier if you feel like you can’t get past a certain point. The settings menu allows you to turn on infinite health and infinite stamina, which essentially means you cannot die. While this feature is appreciated for allowing the youngest gamers to enjoy the title, it’s a bit over the top for an adult gamer as you are essentially cheating. It would be nice if the game had a healthy medium to maximise accessibility.