After spending an unnecessary amount of time and frustration on PC building, I finally decided to get an Xbox Series X. It was somewhat strange to go for it instead of Sony’s next entry due to having mainly grown up with the PlayStation 1, 3, and 4, but Microsoft’s home consoles have been interesting units with their own exclusive titles. The moment I did get the black refrigerator, I immediately decided to purchase Tunic as well, since it looked like a cute take on the action-adventure genre with a clear reminiscent of the original The Legend of Zelda. Upon playing it though, it turned out to be much more than just that.
Presenting the perfect tone of what this journey is all about: you wake up on the shores of a strange land as a fox wearing a tunic and no other introduction to this game’s plot whatsoever. With this, your sole option is to explore and figure out what is going on, with just about everything being told to you through what you see. Statues of ancient heroes, bizarre constructions, and peculiar characters, all are elaborated upon without a single word spoken and instead rely on you piecing your discoveries together.
Storytelling like this creates a wonderful mystery where you pay attention to every detail you come across, big or small. Even the language consists primarily of a new and unfamiliar one, with mere keywords being in English. This is a clever form of using nostalgia of retro titles where only certain phrases were understandable, going so far as to make the manual too follow this idea and continue the focus on visual indications of what secrets this world holds.
Even then, the plot is a simple and sweet one that could be summarized in one sentence, making it easy to follow and not overly pretentious with lore or dialogues. This is incredibly admirable, as it does not try to be grander than what it is, but concentrated on using its media to tell its tale beautifully. Because of this, I was engrossed, fascinated, and lost in this land with diverse locations of ruins, facilities, and monsters that made me full of questions and excited when I possibly found some answers.
Story Score: 10/10
Nostalgia through gameplay
Being an isometric adventure title, Tunic takes on this genre in full glory by focusing on exploration. You are never told where to go and are free to wander anywhere as long as you have the tools for getting past specific obstacles. This could have been overwhelming, but thanks to giving each area memorable layouts, you are always subtly hinted at where it might be advisable to look around. Not to mention, there are manual pages scattered around telling you about this world and how to play the game.
Yes, even functionalities are hidden within the handbook that can give you clues on what you are capable of, which I love! Learning and finding out new things to give you an enlightening moment on how to progress, is always exhilarating. It might show you that you can hold the A button on certain platforms for an effect, how save stations can be used to upgrade your character’s stats or what these strange cards are for! Most of these are meant for the players to discover on their own, so I will try my best to keep spoilers to a minimum.
What is also remarkable, is that if you are the explorative type, you can unveil these abilities by sheer experimentation! Every action can be executed from the start, even if the game has yet to tell you about them. Although, you will need at times helpful items for venturing further, like a sword for cutting down stern bushes, a grappling hook for clearing specific gaps, and so on. These are also used for combat and despite not every tool being as diverse, they are all important and practical for your adventure. Even your lamp for lighting up caves aids you in uncovering more secrets and is simply placed on your belt automatically for continuous use, which is great!
However, this is a dangerous world with plenty of fiends to fight and they all react differently towards you. Spiders will carefully move back and only attack if they are threatened or can take you off guard, soldiers with shields will deflect your blows, assassins swing their blades wildly at you, and many others are just as unique. By fighting multiple of these creatures in a varied manner, the tension can be severe and you will always have to be ready for what is coming up against you.
Your sword with a three-hit combo, deflective shield, and dodge roll do come in handy of course with plenty of nice aspects to them. For example, the last hit of your blade does significantly more damage, you can time your blocks with a second press for countering attacks, and your evasive manoeuvre has distinctive indications for when you are invulnerable. A solid setup and you can even lock onto enemies for easier aiming and strafing. Thankfully, your defensive moves are limited by your stamina bar next to your health meter to make sure you are not overpowered. Despite that it automatically refills, it does so slowly and forces you to be careful.
Although, a good offence is just as critical, as there are three face buttons available for holding one tool each, while your shield is always dedicated to one of the shoulder triggers and dodge is similarly to A. Your sword could be put on one of the main buttons, but perhaps you want to hold a berry for refilling your mana bar just in case? Maybe it is smart to use magical abilities for certain portions or utilise your varied trinkets like bombs or decoys? Every single action is crucial, and with how diverse the foes are, you are going to need all the help you can get. Not to mention, the game only pauses when you check the manual and not while you are looking at your inventory, demanding you to be on your guard and prepared!
I adore how this title requires you to learn all the devices’ functions and use them wisely. These can be discovered in treasure chests or bought by a merchant with money that you can find around the world or from defeated enemies, giving you always a possibility to gather more. None of these items come cheap either, making your currency matter gratefully. Again, this makes exploration meaningful as you can acquire so many valuable knickknacks, with there even being healing flasks that refill upon saving at specific statues, alongside your other bars. There are furthermore parts of broken bottles that can be collected to gain a fixed one, giving a neat twist on a mechanic borrowed from probably the most famous adventure franchise starring a hero in green.
When you bite the dust, you will respawn by the last sculpture you saved at with some coins lost. However, should you get back to the point where you perished, you will notice a ghost avatar of yourself that will return the money and give a small stun attack around you for good measure. This is a nice extra, and the losses are not too severe to make you feel reluctant to continue. It should also be noted that all the hidden shortcuts and passageways make backtracking not an issue and reward your curiosity. Actually, this even works with the stationary camera, as it will require a keen eye for the subtle oddities within these different landscapes while offering a sufficient view of your surroundings!
Even better, is how each location is diverse and unique to give its own flavour to the adventure. A beach holding multiple surreal monoliths, an underground facility leading to a dark labyrinth, and an ancient temple being filled with cultists ready to take you down just to name some, are all intriguing challenges. None of these strays away from the core concept of this game and makes the entire journey enjoyable. This also includes the boss fights that are truly difficult beasts to conquer with numerous attacks and patterns to learn, forcing you to react accordingly and use your items cleverly without wasting them.
Tunic’s biggest strength is how it lets exploration be engaging and rewarding, while also making the combat fun and exciting through your experimentations! With how much it relies on your ability to scour and comprehend as you play, while even throwing in nostalgic manuals as an innovative way to elaborate on its mechanics, this is a title that thrives on its main ideas and is definitely one of the best within its genre.
Gameplay Score: 10/10
With a simplistic style that could be best described as remastered polygons, this project offers magnificent and peculiar visuals that are brimming with colours. It is marvellous how distinct each location becomes because of this, such as the blue haunted graveyard, the harsh wintery mountain, and the mines full of corrupt purple ores. None of the sites is anything below fascinating due to set pieces being properly implemented to tell its lore, with the day and night cycle adding to the atmosphere thanks to brilliant lighting.
Everything fits with this artistic approach, including the fierce foes you will be up against. They can be relegated to familiar creatures, like brawny soldiers or slime monsters, but they still come with original designs and the bosses are outstanding with varied forms too. Ginormous ruins coming to life, warriors with futuristic technology, and more add to make this world tell its story and simply look mesmerizing. Even the hero is adorable, while being a modest reference with his green tunic and pink scarf.
Oddly enough, the manual with pages that holds gorgeous illustrations of characters, objects, and environments is probably my favourite aspect here. All the pictures are drawn by hand and reminiscent of those from the NES/FAMICOM days that enhanced the experience tenfold. You can even glance at the TV screen of the game while searching through it, giving it a lovely nostalgic touch! I could go on with how bewitching the different magical effects are or the beautiful trees which are unique to each place, but it is overall just an incredible product that brings a remarkable style of its own.
Complimenting this mysterious land is an ominous soundtrack filled with echoed instruments, such as subtle bongo drums, slow piano, and even electronics! Despite that all the melodies carry a similar vibe, every piece is long and varied to make them stand out from one another and strengthen the tone each location brings, like the hub’s more uplifting take or the faster ones for the boss battles. They might not contain highlighted notes to make themselves memorable, but this is done to give more focus on the foreboding setting each site offers.
Presentation Score: 9/10
Need to be clever like a…
With tons of treasures to find, secrets that are well hidden, and even an extra ending being acquirable through puzzles and exploration, Tunic makes sure to keep your interest beyond your central goal. Unveiling everything this world holds is no easy task, but none of the areas is too big for making traversing tedious and with how some discoveries can even lead to optional weapons or items, it becomes engrossing to look around every nook and cranny!
Should you wish to return after seeing the credits roll, there is actually a new game plus where you have all the upgrades with you from the end of the last playthrough! This is a fantastic idea, due to making the adventure nonlinear and letting you go wherever you please to get the trinkets needed for finishing the journey. It might not be as rewarding as the normal run due to how powerful you are from the beginning, but it makes for an engaging setup to the point that speedrunning this is exhilarating.
Extra Score: 9/10
Recreating anything with a retro format is incredibly hard, but the team behind Tunic went the additional mile and used nostalgic elements in order to develop a sublime title that makes me miss the old days. With an excellent take on exploration, beautiful storytelling, enthralling combat, gorgeous presentation, and great replay value, it is hard to not recommend this project to anyone looking for an unforgettable experience. If you also wonder; yes, this is on par with the best instalments from the Zelda series.