Tunic brilliantly captures the feel of that special childhood title that made you fall in love with video games. Using a virtual simulation of an old-school tour guide, the game masterfully balances telling players almost nothing and giving them all the information they need. The result is a game of real, triumphant discovery.
With every pixel filled with reverence for gaming as a medium, Tunic revels in its historically inspired design. Players who are deeply immersed in the traditions of this hobby will find it extremely rewarding to follow their instincts as they roam this beautiful world. Tunic impressively combines the charm of the past with the sensitivity of modern titles. An isometric action-adventure, Tunic has plenty of early Zelda games with a generous handful of Souls titles thrown in for good measure. It’s a winning combination.
Real-time combat had me attacking opponents by looking for offensive openings while keeping an eye on my stamina. Each hit, dodge, or block took up a portion of the pole. Luckily, my low stamina never stopped me from attacking, but I took more damage when the bar ran out. The downright relaxing music provides an intriguing contrast to the hard fighting, and the “Chill Beats To Fight To” vibes take the sting out of the vicious showing. As is the simple but beautiful visual aesthetic of the world. Dying meant dropping some of the hard-earned currency I gained from my victories. But the nice thing about a tunic is that you never lose everything. So you can go straight back to where you died to recover the contents of your wallet, or you can spend what you have left on items to gain an advantage.
For those put off by this style of gameplay, Tunic offers players of all types a chance to enjoy its combat system, as accessibility options include a no-fail mode and the ability to turn off stamina caps. The Souls-like combat is intense, but the challenge feels more satisfying than punishing – although some later bosses definitely gave me trouble. Each boss has its own unique feel, with different attack patterns to study, but most play similarly. A formidable challenger will do his best to bring you down on a closed battlefield; that means no running away from the conflict.
Tunic’s combat is great, but discovery and exploration are perhaps its most impressive elements. Your adventure is linear, but its myriad paths contain junctions that split into more junctions and then more. No matter which direction I went, the objective was usually remarkable, with some paths unexpectedly taking me to new objectives or undiscovered late-game areas. This made the world feel limitless, which is a commendable achievement for a game made up of strictly defined paths.
In addition, each route was packed with discoveries and there were an incredible number of treasure chests. Many of these were seemingly inaccessible until I noticed an unobtrusively hidden passage or used a clever combination of items to get where I needed them. Without resorting to diligent puzzles, Tunic constantly forced me to be proud of my puzzle-solving skills. In an amazing display of understated design, the sense of discovery didn’t stop once I’d collected my prize.
Some things – like the sword or the very Zelda-esque key items that opened up new zones or allowed me to overcome obstacles – were self-explanatory. Others, however, which I will not spoil, were utter mysteries. One of my favorite moments from the game involved an oddly mundane object that seemed to do nothing. Later in my journey, a wild idea popped into my head as to what it could be for. Thinking there was no way I was right, I tested my theory and was greeted with surprising success. I audibly celebrated my accomplishment, along with the developers’ ability to craft a wonderful “Ah-ha!” Moment.
I wasn’t left entirely without guidance, however. Tunic’s gameplay is inseparable from collecting the pages of a guide booklet scattered around the world. Though mostly filled with unreadable glyphs, the nostalgia-inspiring manual somehow contained all the information I ever needed to know about Tunic – if I was paying close attention. One side might demonstrate combat mechanics while another serves as a map, and yet another might offer a veiled look at the game’s narrative. As I uncovered more pages, I discovered that there was actually an entire section devoted to history. But the scraps of mostly incomprehensible text didn’t tell the whole story. Despite its lack of transparency, Tunic still paints an engaging narrative picture that gave me a sense of what was happening but also left many details up to my interpretation, which I enjoyed.
Studying the manual closely, I quickly realized that there was plenty of handwritten wisdom scrawled in the margins. This made me feel as if I had received the Tunic and booklet from an older sibling, a friend, or a thrift store and inadvertently given myself access to secret knowledge. I meticulously studied the official print of the booklet, as well as the helpful, if obscure, ink-scribbled clues, and the game consistently rewarded me for it. If I ever got stuck somewhere in my search, the answer was somewhere in the pages. I love it when a game includes me as a player in its meta-narrative. With this conceit, Tunic conjured up my childhood memories of gaming heritage and blended those real-world experiences into gameplay, making my connection to the game deeper and more personal.
While Tunic is an experience I would recommend to any player, the vagueness that makes it uniquely rewarding can also lead to real frustration. Most of the time, the game is so well designed that it’s easy to find answers or try a different path while puzzling, especially in the beginning. But when I got stuck near the end of the game, I couldn’t just run down another path and my progress slowed to a halt. However, this was a rare exception to the sparkling overall experience. And my frustration gave way to admiration when I discovered that the easily overlooked secret I had glossed over had been in the pamphlet all along. The developers’ attention to detail and the work that went into these collectible pages is remarkable.
I was constantly deviating from the main quest to track something down or investigate a newly discovered path, and so it took me about 20 hours to roll the credits. That said, I know I still have a lot of work to do in the game, and I look forward to heading back inside to unravel every mystery and experience all that its aesthetically stunning world has to offer. Tunic is a stunning achievement that manages to embody the best of nostalgia while being completely refreshing. It is absolutely a must play gem.
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