As you might have guessed from our little fox hero’s attire, Tunic is a Legend of Zelda-styled tribute, from its charming aesthetic, its easy-to-grasp sword and magic-based gameplay, right down to the exploration of dungeons. It’s clear that this is more than just a love letter to the classic Nintendo series. But don’t let its deceptively simple nature fool you. Tunic can be satisfyingly challenging to a level more befitting the Dark Souls series. From stamina management, bonfire-styled checkpoints and hidden shortcuts that aid your travels around its connected world; Tunic manages to blend both beautifully into one adorable package.
Story – Fantastically Mysterious
Tunic is intentionally vague with your purpose in its world. Your adventure begins on a beach. Making your way quickly inland you pick up a stick. With a helpful pointer from a nearby sign, you head into a shimmering forest to try and find a sword. Not long after that you find yourself in ancient ruins, to water filled caves, dark caverns and a kingdom of frogs. The ‘story’ naturally progresses alongside the gameplay, offering more context, the deeper you go.
The game keeps its cards close to its chest, giving the player hints at the bigger picture to unravel. What does the language say? Do these statues have a purpose? Why is the world in this state? These questions are what drives you to continue with your adventure. Even if you’re not interested in discovering all of Tunic’s secrets, curiosity is always rewarded with more hints or in-game items. The story itself is less about the characters, and much more focused on the world around you.
Tunic wants you to discover its story and have your own interpretation of certain events as and when you encounter them. The context of which, might change later in the game and therefore change your perception of the events you experienced a few hours before. This certainly isn’t a straight forward Zelda clone!
Gameplay – An Isometric Adventure
Tunic’s real magic, however, comes from how it communicates itself to the player. There is no indication of a specific narrative or direction to be pointed in. The very items you can pick up and use aren’t even described in detail. You’re encouraged to experiment with the items you come across and find out their effects. In fact, there is barely any legible in-game dialogue at all. The majority of Tunic’s dialogue is in a unique runic language, with only the absolute most important titbits of information signposted and written in plain English.
This might sound frustrating, but instead leads to some great moments of accomplishment and power when you get a new item or discover a new place. If you ever do get stuck, the handy game manual will surely give you a hint! No, not a physical game manual – an in-game collectable that gives you pages to a literal Tunic game manual to aid you on your quest!
This booklet has plenty of helpful hints and tips for the player. Hidden in its illustrations and handwritten notes is a lot of guidance, so be sure to check it frequently and thoroughly. Some pages are helpful area maps, while others might offer hints on what certain items do. Sometimes the books secrets are even hidden in the beautiful artwork it contains. It’s exactly like flicking through a manual to the new game you just bought from the shop while also acting as a guidebook to your adventure.
I highly recommend if you get stuck, you scrutinise it before jumping over to a walkthrough.
Combat encounters flow wonderfully alongside the exploration and puzzle-solving. One minute you’ll be facing off against a crowd of enemies using the simple but effective lock-on and attack swordplay, the next, you’ll be tracing some lines along the floor to solve the latest puzzle that blocks your progression. Sometimes you might find yourself doing both at the same time!
You don’t have just your sword to aid you on your quest either. Explore well, and you will be guided to the games many magical items. A magical staff that fires flaming projectiles, a grappling ‘hook’ to a literal gun. Passive charms that can be equipped with ‘hidden’ effects. Almost all serve a duel purpose, each having a unique interaction in combat, to how they can be used to further explore the world. There are also plenty of consumable items such as bombs and fruit, which you will have to use to find out for yourself their effects.
Pay attention to the guidebook, check every corner, and you’re sure to stumble upon one of the games many power ups. These pick-ups can permanently enhance your health, stamina, defence and more. But be aware! You’ll need to be at a checkpoint to use them, and they cost an increasing amount of currency to apply each time you use one. Thankfully currency is bountiful, and you’ll more than likely have enough pocket change to spend until towards the end of the game.
With the combination of items, gadgets, power-ups and currency you can spend at a item shop, Tunic is a firm, yet fair experience that wants you to have fun rather than get frustrated and stuck with it. It gives you plenty of opportunities to come back when you’re more prepared for almost all of its hardest challenges.
Graphics and Audio – Perfect Polygons & Soothing Synth
The isometric view lends itself to the philosophy of discovery, as it feels like there is a reward of some kind around every unseen corner. A dynamic, yet focused camera leaves enough wiggle room for you to want to check around every nook and cranny. Soft-looking textures are paired beautifully with clever lighting that makes Tunic’s bright world come to life, along with it’s well thought out level design. You’ll be able to spot and note useful landmarks in your head for when you’ll inevitably return later.
Enemies are varied and have clear silhouettes, making each encounter with them a visual treat. Despite their low polygon looking nature, this is clearly a winning stylistic choice. You’ll be fighting frogs with sticky tongues, pig-like bandits with swords to magical automated turrets and spiders that are scared of fire and light. Our foxy protagonist always manages to stand out in a crowd so you never lose track of yourself during the more intense moments.
The music fits the visual mood perfectly, with calming ambience that changes alongside the area you’re currently exploring. Giving way to rising, almost orchestral, crescendos for the intense boss battles that will surely accompany you for the few attempts you make to best them. While no music is stand out memorable, it is always fitting the mood for whatever situation you find yourself in.
Tunic was reviewed on PC via Steam.