tunic launched this month after almost eight years in development. The cute looking action-adventure game shares a lot in common with The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls, but it quickly became apparent that these influences are just the surface layer of a deceptively deep game. The world of tunic is full of mysteries and your heroic little fox will have to solve a lot of puzzles in order to uncover his mysteries.
[Editor’s note: Spoilers follow for Tunic]
One of the greatest mysteries of the game is the Golden Path. This cross-game puzzle is often alluded to in the pages of the game’s manual, but its meaning always seems temptingly out of reach. However, as its nature gradually becomes clear, it proves to be one of the most creative and satisfying puzzles in gaming history.
The road to understanding the Golden Path isn’t easy, but the seed is planted early, whether that’s by discovering the giant stone door at the top of the Overworld Mountain or by picking up some fascinating manual pages in the library. The first real breakthrough, however, comes with the Page 49 collection, which contains a golden grid with 25 numbers in it. With a bit of skill, it’s possible to connect the dots on the previous pages (especially the clues on pages 21 and 22) and note some gold-colored clues (even if you can’t decipher the language).
Each square links to a specific manual page, and upon closer inspection you can find a hidden golden line pattern on each one, which eventually adds up to a magnificent and complex route that traverses the entire grid before arriving at the center. The hunt begins.
Finally, if you trace this line, you will have the unlock code tunic‘s mountain door. It is a comfortable physicality to compose the Golden Path in this way. During the period, others in the tunic Press Discord Server went so far as to print the manual’s template or recreate it in their own journals. It evokes a golden age of video game mysteries and rumors, before readily available guides and walkthroughs, when players shared theories in the schoolyard and sketched out dungeon maps and landmarks.
The way tunicThat patterns are hidden is also a stroke of genius. Browsing through virtual pages looking for gold lines could easily have become a chore, but every piece of the path is hidden in a slightly different way. A coffee stain becomes a clue, a misprint a telltale sign. It encourages and challenges players to see things differently, to reconsider things that they may have previously ignored or skimmed over.
My favorite instance is on page 9, which deals with the game’s data management screen. Nothing on the site itself seems to fit the Golden Path properly, and it might feel like hitting a wall. However, should you decide to check the game loading screen yourself, you’ll discover a strange new game file that wasn’t there before you pulled up the required manual page. Load up and you’re in an endlessly repeating top-down dungeon that you follow – what else? – a gold line along the bottom.
This constant recontextualization of parts of the game’s language is fascinating and produces a euphoric high when you figure out the connections. It’s possible to discover the secret game file before you even know anything about the Golden Path, but if you don’t yet understand its meaning, it’s a tantalizing but impenetrable mystery. As with so much else in there tunicit feels like the game is trusting you to figure out what to do, and when you live up to that expectation the feeling is exhilarating.
However, the Golden Path puzzle is much more than the sum of its parts. Yes, each step in solving this great mystery is satisfying and meaningful, but it also works in a holistic sense and fits with the overall intrigue that permeates the entire game. It’s impossible to play through Tunic without getting a feel for its hidden depths, from the manual’s runic language to the rocky remains of powerful golems that riddle the landscape to the ancient CRT display that glimpses briefly when you access the manual. As such, a large overarching puzzle (which also proves integral to unlocking the ‘true’ ending) is a perfect thematic complement. The Golden Path puzzle embraces Tunic’s intrepid meta-nature, and as a result everything makes odd sense no matter how bizarre the hoops you have to jump through.
Good puzzle design like tunicIt’s key to fostering a sense of acceptance in players, a sense that they are unlocking the mysteries of an island rather than solving a game developer’s riddle. It’s the polar opposite of, say, Resident Evil’s Byzantine puzzles with locked doors and keys that, in hindsight, feel marginal to the overall experience, random obstacles to overcome and forget. Compare that to something like Return of the Obra Dinna game that, while essentially a large puzzle, offers significant stakes within the world for each conclusion the player draws, rewarding him for the appropriate amount of detective work.
in the tunic, the Golden Path ticks all the boxes. It feeds into the mysterious air that hovers over the island, lurking behind closed doors and in intriguing patterns. Every successful step feels earned, whether it’s discovering the connection to the mountain gate, finding a specific piece of the path, or unlocking the ultimate pattern and claiming your reward. The fact that this reward – the elusive page 1 of the guide – is the key to finding the game’s true ending is just icing on the cake. In many ways, this puzzle isn’t so much about the destination as it is about the journey to get there.