We've been exploring the adorable world of Tunic to see how this indie adventure game stacks up.
Adorable. There's no better word to describe Tunic upon first setting eyes on this game. Coming from developer Dicey, this action-adventure exploration game with Metroidvania elements sees players guiding a small fox through a larger-than-life story over a mystical and unusual land inhabited by deadly creatures and shrouded in mystery. It's a game that oozes the same charm and level of intrigue as did Acid Nerve's Death's Door and even the recent remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, but where those games excelled across the whole board, with the former even being one of my top games of 2021, Tunic doesn't quite hit all the same marks and even suffers in a few places.
But before I get into the intricacies of that, let's talk about the broader nature of Tunic. As this game has Metroidvania elements, the entire premise of the gameplay is to wander around a beautifully realised world searching for clues and gear to unlock more areas and to progress the story. What this does mean, as is common in the sub-genre, is that you'll be spending a lot of your time thoroughly lost and bewildered of what to do next, but that's the point of the game as it's essentially one big, interconnected puzzle waiting to be solved. You'll be expected to guide this little fox protagonist around the world, overcoming environmental puzzles and fighting through different types of enemies all to reach certain core objectives that will unlock new areas or make you a more formidable adventurer. Completing these tasks will require you to beat smaller dungeons connected to the wider world and even boss type foes that will not hesitate to show you the true meaning of pain. In these areas, Tunic truly excels and stands up as a top-notch game.
Between the wider world and everything that fills it, be it enemies, locations and the environmental puzzles, Dicey has created a land that calls out to be explored. You'll become enthralled and immersed by this tale and the necessity and desire to become stronger by finding more powerful weapons (be it a sword, a magical crossbow, or consumable items that will increase your health, stamina, damage, resistance and more, permanently). And to add to this, the variety of monsters, many of which are so bizarre they are a struggle to define (one seems to resemble an origami crane), constantly aim to test your skills and your ability to wield the sharp end of a sword.
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Matching this up with the aforementioned adorable and truly magnificent world, a world that features lush forests, sandy beaches, snowy mountain tops, dark and grim wells and caverns, and all manners of unexplainable ancient relics, and you get a land that is as much a joy to explore as it is to simply gaze upon. With all of this in mind, you are probably still wondering why Tunic irks me, well that's because there are a few areas that deject and take away from the wider experience.
To start with, the combat isn't great. You have very few mechanics at your disposal, largely revolving around swinging a sword, blocking with a shield, and dodging attacks, and they're handled in such a way that you often don't feel as though you really have control over what it is you want to do. Tunic uses a weird combat system that includes a targeting system that allows you to focus on one enemy in a fight (you don't have to use this, but landing attacks will be harder otherwise). The problem with the combat, is that on PC for example, there is no use for your mouse, meaning you can't really aim at all, and you have to rely on actually repositioning the way the fox is facing to target attacks, which becomes a massive nuisance to deal with when facing multiple enemies that like to surround you, or dealing with a foe with a lot of mobility. Needless to say, it's a really frustrating system that could've been avoided with the ability to simply aim your attacks, as is the case in Death's Door.
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But the controls and clunky combat isn't the only part of Tunic that bothers me, as the hints are frankly indecipherable. I mentioned earlier how the nature of being lost is essentially the lifeblood of games with Metroidvania elements, and that's a design that you have to accept coming into Tunic. But what you shouldn't have to deal with is a hint booklet that is complicated and lacking any sense. The information displayed in the so-called "Instruction Booklet" lacks coherence and uses a format that is needlessly complicated to fathom. And this isn't helped by the fact that you have to actually build the Instruction Booklet by collecting pages spread out across the overworld, with the booklet often being built in a strange order, as you will likely miss pages along your journey. The entire premise, if anything, makes Tunic more difficult to understand than less, which is remarkably silly.
It's little things like these that take an otherwise very promising game and knock it down a peg or two. Even the actual story, due to the lack of any spoken dialogue, can be a challenge to keep tabs on, meaning the real strengths of Tunic revolve solely around the design of its world, its appearance, and the desire to want to uncover the many, many secrets that make up the world.
If you're looking for a well-thought out gameplay experience, with a streamlined control scheme and a fluid-feeling combat system, then Tunic misses the mark, despite the fact that this seems to be a very polished video game when talking specifically about performance. But if you're able to look past these areas, and are simply engrossed and enthralled by the world that Tunic presents and its genuinely adorable and delightful art style, then you'll be more than amply entertained with this indie adventure.
8 / 10
Visuals and art style are adorable. The world design is top-notch and makes you want to explore everything it offers. Challenging a lot of the time, but in an engaging and enthralling way that makes you want to unravel the mysteries presented to you.
Combat and the controls are clunky. Instruction Booklet is needlessly complex.