Introducing: Tunic Review
Like a cross between the Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls, Tunic is a captivating dungeon crawler that doesn’t skimp on the difficultly, and still manages to remain thoroughly engaging. The game takes a reasonable 15 hours or so to complete, but this is highly dependent upon how deep you are willing to dive into a deluge of metapuzzles that increase in complexity and scope. Tunic is a day one release on Game Pass so there really is no excuse not to give it a go. Read on to hear how this plucky little fox forced me to become just as cunning as his namesake.
What does the fox say?
The story of Tunic is told without a single word being uttered… ever. Furthermore, very, very few words (at least in English) appear within the game at all. So, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little unclear about what transpired on that strange little island. Part of the fun of this game is working out just what your objective is, so it probably best if my description remains as vague as possible. The beginning of the game starts out very much like Link’s Awakening (indeed the art style is very reminiscent of the recent remake of that game as well). Our nameless protagonist wakes up on the shores of a strange island. He very quickly find a weapon and the first pages of an in-game instruction manual (more on this in a minute) that hints at what he is initially required to do. What follows is a systematic search of the island in an effort to overcome various obstacles and, perhaps, rescue the soul of a companion trapped within.
Instruction manual labour
Tunic is a game that requires the player to, (A) figure out what it is they are supposed to do next, and (B) understand the various gameplay mechanics required in order to achieve that. On the face of it, that sounds very much like any other action/adventure game, but herein lies Tunic’s selling point. The information necessary to complete objectives A and B is slowly uncovered, from an honest to goodness, in-game instruction manual. For those of you who are too young to remember, video games (like most consumer electronics at the time) used to come packaged with a manual that would give you some background to the story, explain the controls, include maps, and give you plenty of hints and tips to starting out on your adventure. I find it very sad that these physical tombs of knowledge have now been almost completely replaced by in-game tutorials and cinematic storytelling, but I suppose that’s just how things are these days. While printed manuals are nothing new, finding pages of a digital one, within the game is something that I’ve never seen before, and it works incredibly well for the purposes of both storytelling and revealing new gameplay mechanics.
The pages of the instruction manual are scattered across the island and can be picked up throughout the entire course of your adventure. While writing notes for this review I made negative comments on features such as “no map of overworld” or “not made clear how to upgrade your stats” but then a little while later, I would stumble upon the necessary page of the manual to completely rectify any possible issue I was having with the game. The joy of discovering each and every one of these pages is unsurpassed, and I was hooked on collecting each and every one of them before I was done with the game. Tunic does a wonderful job of celebrating this gone but not forgotten piece of video game history and if Finji ever publish a physical edition then I’ll be on it like white on rice.
Think outside the fox
The gameplay is straightforward enough to be picked up almost instantly, but constantly adds extra components so that progression never becomes boring or tedious. I made comparisons earlier to both the Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls, and with good reason. The green tunic, sword and shield are all obvious references to the Legend of Zelda, but there are more subtle parallels as well. The bright and colourful graphics, the dungeon crawling, and of course the items which you recover to assist in your exploration of the overworld (there’s even something that resembles a hookshot) all had me believing I was playing the closest possible analogy to Zelda on the Xbox.
These gameplay staples are teamed up and matched perfectly with more modern gameplay mechanics reminiscent of the Soulsborne series of games. Having sunk 10 to 20 hours into Elden Ring so far, I can be considered a very recent newcomer to this particular brand of video game, but even I can see the elements which have been cunningly interwoven into the rich tapestry that is Tunic. There are health, stamina, and magic meters. The health meter requires potions to replenish. There are monuments that function very much like bonfires (i.e. they will replenish all your meters and potions, but respawn every enemy you have killed). And then there’s the bosses. I didn’t have too much trouble with any of the bog standard enemies in this game, but the bosses are something else. They require precise timing and expert management of the combat mechanics in order to dispatch them for good. Each and everyone of them took me many attempts to master, but here’s the thing – they are all beatable. I was never really frustrated by the game for putting these roadblocks in my path (as I frequently was in Elden Ring). Rather, I was inspired to try and try again, getting a little bit better each time, until my strategy became like a dance that I knew forwards and backwards. And the occasional YouTube playthrough video proved very useful on occasion as well.
I could go on and on about how much fun I had while playing this game. There are pickups that enhance your abilities, in-game currency to spend on helpful items, a mysterious language that begs to be deciphered, and metapuzzles hidden in the manual that put me in mind of the CD box puzzle from the original Metal Gear Solid. If I have one gripe however, it has to do with some optional quests at the very end of the game that require the player to input button codes. One of these in particular is extremely lengthy, and I had to input it five times before I got it completely correct. I would have had the same feeling of awe and amazement if the button codes were a fraction as long as they are, and I highly doubt players would stumble upon them accidentally.
Beautiful, simplistic, iconic, timeless. All these words come to mind when trying the describe the graphics in this game. If you loved the toy-like aesthetic of the Link’s Awakening remaster, then you’ll be right at home here. The camera angle is positioned to present the world from an isometric vantage point and it will occasionally pan-out in a given location to give a greater field of view. This is particularly awe-inspiring and it gives a great sense of scope to areas that would otherwise feel fairly pedestrian. The artwork in the manual is equally impressive, which makes me want that inevitable physical release even more. The soundtrack is atmospheric and wonderfully soothing. It gives off an otherworldly, dreamlike vibe that matches the gameplay brilliantly.
Conclusion: Fantastic Mr Fox!
There is so much to love about this game that I’m not sure how to begin when summing up. It ticked every box for me. Aesthetics, combat, puzzle solving, story, music, progression, difficulty – all just how I want them to be. The fragmented, discoverable, in-game manual is also the best innovation that I’ve seen in ages and I hope other developers pick up on the idea in the future ASAP. Some might say that the adventure is a little too short but I would say that it doesn’t outstay its welcome. This is the perfect game to pick up and play between the other major releases that will be dropping throughout this year and you may just find that it actually outshines many of them in terms of its accessibility, clever game design and downright charm. If you own an Xbox and have an active subscription to Game Pass then this is a no-brainier. Download it now!
- Beautiful and simplistic art style.
- Captivating and indirect storytelling.
- Challenging but rewarding combat (especially with bosses).
- In-game manual pays homage to the physical instruction manuals of yesteryear.
- Some players may struggle by not having a complete manual at the start of the game or may miss pages altogether.
- Button codes at the end of the game are arguably too long.