Developed by: Andrew Shouldice
Published by: Finji
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC
Heavily inspired by the early The Legend of Zelda games for the NES, SNES & Nintendo Game Boy, Tunic is isometric action-RPG from Indie developer Andrew Shouldice. Played using an isometric view, the game opens up with somewhat of a blank slate as the protagonist, a cute fox wearing a green & yellow tunic reminiscent of a certain Nintendo icon, washes up on a beach with no memories. Preferring to let players discover the world and its mythology themselves, Tunic is extremely hands-off when it comes to a tutorial and drip-feeds information to the player through a mysterious instruction manual (again, inspired by The Legend of Zelda) which is written in a fictitious language that players have to decipher to uncover secrets. Over the years, instruction manuals have become much less important to the gaming experience with in-game tutorials often taking over, but Tunic revisits the classic 8-bit era and the joy of reading the instruction booklet in-between gaming sessions. With each subsequent page, players can discover world maps, new abilities and also backstories. It is a wonderful way to peel back the mystery of the title, whilst capturing that retro 80’s vibe.
In contrast to its retro stylings, Tunic borrows some gameplay mechanics from the more recent Dark Souls series, rewarding progress and exploration with shortcuts and character growth. Enemies that were a challenge at the start at the game gradually become regular foes once you’ve upgraded your weapons and health accordingly. If you are unlucky enough to fall in battle, you have the opportunity to return to your spirit and regain some of your lost coins, mirroring Dark Souls’ own revival system. The boss battles also remind me of the Dark Souls series with gargantuan foes with long HP bars covering the bottom of the screen. Each one requires a blend of tactics, skill and luck. If it becomes too challenging, there is a “no fail mode” in the accessibility options that allows you to take no damage and progress through the game unhindered.
Tunic is an absolutely beautiful game too, beginning with bright blue skies and green fields of the initial overworld before transitioning to a number of unique biomes such as a dark graveyard, overgrown forests, eerie underground temples and a miasma-filled industrial wasteland. The isometric view is absolutely fantastic and while it contributes greatly to the retro nostalgia, it also allows the game to hide secrets in plain sight. There are plenty of secrets to uncover in this game, whether it is hidden chests, secret treasures or post-game bonuses, the game rewards eagle-eyed players. One particular addition (“the holy cross”) invokes those classic cheat codes of the 8-bit and 16-bit era, and unlocks secrets based upon contextual clues such as patterns on walls, or even the arrangement of flowers on an island.
As with many of The Legend of Zelda games, Tunic rewards players for their progress with new items and skills that allow them to access previously unreachable areas. It is a well-worn video game trope, but I can’t deny how satisfying it is to return to an area with a new ability and collect that treasure that seemed out-of-reach several hours ago. Tunic is filled with plenty of moments like that and before you know it, you feel acquainted with the entire world map (which is pretty sizeable) and it becomes a joy to explore looking for hidden chests, fairies or other secrets.
While the game’s minimalist approach to the plot is refreshing and allows gamers to discover things at their own speed, it left me feeling slightly disconnected to the story. I never fully understood what the fox’s motivations were, or even why I was on this quest. I just followed the clues in the instruction booklet that led me to find the keys, open the ruin and proceed from there. There was even an achievement titled “What Now?” that summed up my own feelings at a certain point in the game because there was a sense of confusion as to what the purpose of it all was. The game has plenty of charm to help overlook that somewhat threadbare plot, and there were some hints and clues throughout the journey that helps players fill in their own blanks, but it feels it was left purposefully vague for the individual to interpret themselves. Most action-RPGs, particularly The Legend of Zelda series, don’t need complex stories, but a clear goal and mission statement might have helped give me a sense of accomplishment at the end.
Tunic is a triumph of an indie title, a fact further evidenced by its nominations for “Best Indie Game” at the Golden Joystick Awards and The Game Awards. A love letter to those classic action-RPGs from the 8-bit and 16-bit generation, Tunic revitalises the genre for a modern era through stunning isometric graphics and pitch-perfect gameplay mechanics and level design. A true experience from start to finish, Tunic deserves every single accolade heading its way and is a “must play” for action-RPG fans or those wanting to step outside of the mainstream and immerse themselves in a gorgeous indie title for a memorable 15-20 hour adventure.
Score – ★★★★★
Tunic is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and Windows PC. It can also be played as part of the Xbox Game Pass.