A fun action adventure that sometimes lacks direction
So many games released in the last few years have been inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a modern day classic that revolutionized exploration in open world games. From AAA titles such as Immortals Fenyx Rising to indie hits like Solar Ash and The Pathless, each have design aspects that can be traced back to Breath of the Wild. Instead of taking notes from the latest Zelda game in the franchise, Canadian developer Andrew Shouldice’s isometric action-adventure Tunic feels inspired most by the original The Legend of Zelda, plunging players into a mysterious world just waiting to be explored.
You assume the role of a green tunic-wearing Fox, who in a fashion not too dissimilar to the experiences of another tunic-clad gaming icon, awakens on a beach. Not long after acquiring your first weapon in the form of a trusty stick, you find that a Fox deity is being unwillingly held captive by a trio of colourful stones. Desperate to free a fellow Fox from an undesirable fate, you set out into the overworld in an attempt to track down each stone, with the perilous journey seeing you explore various locales such as an unstable and dangerous Quarry, a domain overrun with frogs, and a haunted swampland.
I finished up my playthrough of Tunic (which clocked in at roughly 20 hours) pretty confident that my aforementioned summary is what the core premise was, but the vague nature of the narrative leaves it largely up to interpretation. The story of Tunic isn’t one to worry too much about due to its obscure delivery or lack thereof, but I still enjoyed my interpretation of events, with the ending in particular prompting me to theorise exactly what had happened.
Akin to the NES-era where the manual was often paramount to your understanding of a game's narrative and contents, Tunic is very much cut from the same cloth. Most of the dialogue and even the in-game instruction manual itself features a unique language that can’t be deciphered. Thankfully there are pictures and the occasional legible word sprinkled throughout the manual, which help provide clues or context about things such as items, gameplay mechanics, the story, and the various enemy types that inhabit the world.
While reading your way through an instruction manual is no big worry, making things challenging is the fact that the in-game manual has been torn up, with its contents scattered throughout Tunic’s sizable overworld. Collecting these pages and learning more about the abilities and items at your disposal is key if you want to progress deep into the game.
Visually, Tunic is absolutely gorgeous. Its simple yet beautiful aesthetic is pleasant on the eyes and performs great with no visual hiccups. Audio is also really well handled, with the game's soundtrack helping in creating a strong sense of atmosphere within the game's world. I wouldn’t say any of the tracks are particularly memorable, but they each play their part well enough.
When it comes to exploration, Tunic isn’t the type of game that holds your hand and force feeds you waypoints to the next objective. In fact, it initially throws you head first into the deep end, knowing you’ll flail about helplessly for a bit before learning to swim. The fact that the game doesn’t outwardly tell you what you need to do in most instances is often a good thing, as it encourages experimentation, which in turn ensures the experience feels fresh and interesting, whilst also encouraging a sense of joy when your hunch pays off.
While some areas can’t be accessed until you unlock further abilities, once you accrue a sword and can chop through the myriad of bushes present in the overworld, the land of Tunic is yours to explore. As you progress further, you will unlock items such as a hookshot that allows you to grab and pull yourself towards particular objects, alongside a much welcome dash that is fast and frenetic and makes traversal a lot easier.
It will quickly become apparent that there is an overwhelming number of hidden paths and walkways to find. Most will lead chests containing either currency or an item, but some secret paths are essential to progress. By the same token, the game's refusal to guide players can lead to many frustrating moments where you’re aimlessly traipsing throughout the world completely unaware of how to proceed. It doesn’t always take forever to get back on the right path, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t lose an hour or two because of simply being lost.
In one instance I explored every nook and cranny of the Quarry dungeon to the point where I had no idea what to do next, which led me back to the overworld where I found a shortcut hidden behind a waterfall that granted me access to the next area. I can respect Tunic’s insistence to prioritise natural exploration, and the manual pieces do make the world easier to comprehend, but at the same time I feel like more should be done in moments where players are in a progression rut.
Throughout your adventure, you will come across various enemies that inhabit the land, from borderline harmless little blobs to more powerful minions that reside in the Quarry and can quickly kill you with their sniper rifles and explosives. Combat encounters when up against basic overworld minions don’t require much thought, simply slice your foe and dodge roll or use your shield to evade their attack. Some enemies however do require more creativity than others, such as the giant shield bearing foxes that must be attacked with bombs to leave them exposed.
Thankfully, as you progress through Tunic, your arsenal of weaponry continues to expand. Alongside sword and shield you get access to weapons such as a gun, ice dagger, and fire staff to name a few, with the ranged weapons helping immensely against the annoying snipers at the Quarry. These fancier weapons are limited by the amount of MP at your disposal. If you’re ever running low on stamina, health or magic points, there are items that can be purchased at shops or found in chests that can be used to replenish these during combat. When exploring, stopping by a shrine will fully replenish them as well, with the option to upgrade aspects such as attack and defence if you’ve got enough gold and the relevant item required to upgrade.
There are also bombs of the ice, fire, and traditional variety, and they are lifesavers when in a spot of bother, especially in the early hours of the game where combat feels especially challenging. This sense of challenge does remain throughout the experience and is most apparent in the final boss encounter, where precise dodges and the knowledge of when best to attack is more important than ever. Overall though, Tunic’s combat is lots of fun despite being relatively simplistic.
Although the mystery and obscurity of Tunic’s design leads to annoying moments where you get lost and your sense of progression is hindered, these frustrations quickly dissipate when you’re on the right track and making your way through Tunic’s picturesque world. The overworld and accompanying dungeons are bursting at the seams with hidden secrets that become clearer as you fill out the instruction manual, while the challenging albeit simple combat is addictive, especially in boss encounters. With a pretty visual look and a serviceable soundtrack to boot, Tunic is an old-school Zelda-style adventure worth taking, so long as you’re willing to be patient in the moments where you get lost.