When I first booted up Tunic, I was briefly back in my bedroom in the mid 90s first booting up A Link to the Past on my SNES. The game looks like a classic Zelda game, it moves like a classic Zelda game, and the hero even looks like someone who could not decide between a Star Fox and a Link cosplay and just did both. That, however, is where I feel the comparisons end.
Tunic is hard. Not the hardest game, but this is no Zelda game. This game will hold you down and best you until you learn to like it. It’s more Dark Souls, in that respect, than A Link to the Past. It even has your obligatory camp fires that respawn enemies and refill your potions. You are going to die and die often. The combat is fair, you are rarely going to get hit unless you make a mistake, but the learning curve is steep. You have to figure out which enemies can just power through your hits and which ones you can stunlock with fancy footwork and well timed swings. The game also makes ample use of consumables and limited use items. You will have your entire moveset early, but your tactics will evolve as you find new and interesting ways to use the items you find in the world.
The game also takes a soulslike position on story, in that you are going to have to go digging for it yourself. This game gives you very little. Conversations take place in a fake language consisting of hieroglyphics, signs are written in this fake language, and even the tutorials begin in this language and then translate as you progress. As a neat feature, the tutorials are presented in the form of an old school instruction manual, the kind I would always forget to return with rented games. As someone who grew up in the golden age of video game instruction manuals, this was an appreciated bit of nostalgia. Younger gamers may not know just how cool the contents of game boxes used to be, so this feature may be lost on them, but as an 80s/90s kid it’s honestly such a cool idea I wonder why more modern games don’t do it.
I feel the best part of this game is the boss battles. They are numerous, varied, and the designs of the bosses are cool as hell. They will punish you, but their patterns are learnable and I never once felt I was getting killed by cheap or unfair tactics. Their AI, and the AI of the general enemies, are good but not great. Enough to challenge you, but also predictable enough to master them. The abilities are readable, so it’s just a matter of learning and memorization, not necessarily of raw reflex or skill.
There is something missing from the game, in my opinion. A certain je ne sais quoi. In its attempt to merge the gameplay of an old school SNES isometric action RPG and a modern soulslike, it seems to have lost a real sense of its own identity. The game comes across as oddly generic despite having so much little flare like the in game manual. The character is cute, would probably make a half decent plushie, but there’s nothing to really set it apart from the crowd. It’s just a fox in a green tunic. Even an eye-patch or some other defining feature would do wonders to add character to Tunic.
It’s still a solid game, and half the price of most games of its size and quality, so I would recommend it for any fan of the genres represented or even for someone wanting to get a little hit off that nostalgia pipe, but I doubt it is going to go down as anything more than a solid piece of tribute to one of gaming’s classic franchises. That said, the foundation is here and if a sequel could find that it factor, I think it could find itself among the great indie titles of this generation.
~~S. W. Jackson~~