Tunic is a true love-letter to the industry’s greatest games.
The Link to the Past / Zelda vibes are obvious, of course, but this goes much deeper. To Hollow Knight, Death’s Door, Dark Souls, Fez, and even games of discovery where you don’t always have words to connect you to the experience like Heaven’s Vault and Returnal.
This stunning isometric adventure is a celebration of what we love most about gaming. It’s charming, feature-rich, mysterious, challenging, but also incredibly rewarding.
And right from the off, you’ll find yourself in awe that this has mostly been the work of a one-person development team. It’s not the first time of course, fantastic games such as The Falconeer and Undertale have shown what’s possible, but there’s something really special about this world.
The aesthetic feels timeless, and at the same time would have felt at home on any of the last 4-5 generations The chirping music in the background is pleasant and eases you into the experience so naturally. The mechanics and controls are easy to dial into and harness.
But at the same time, you’ll feel lost, aimless, hopelessly outnumbered and unsure exactly what you’ll find around the very next corner. Tunic is a game that will eventually provide you all the tools you need to complete it, but you have to spend the time looking for them and accept they won’t come easily to you.
This is a game that you will find yourself revisiting the same places again and again because you got lost or enemies have got the better of you, or you discovered a handy shortcut that connects areas in ways you didn’t expect, making traversal so much easier. A shortcut you could have stumbled across at any time.
Tunic continues to blow the mind like that. Just as you think you’ve explored every nook and cranny, you’ll find a secret path behind a waterfall or a hidden cave will lead you to a familiar route while at the same time taking you somewhere you’ve never been before.
The layout of the world is genius and you’ll find yourself wanting to explore high and low just to uncover its secrets and appreciate its attention to detail. For me, it’s the best part.
More divisive, though, will be the combat which is surprisingly tough. Just because you’re controlling a cute fox and everything looks adorable, it definitely doesn’t mean anyone is going easy on you.
To the point where you don’t even start out with a sword, but a stick. No, really, you have to go and find it and try and beat back your enemies in the meantime.
Oh, and you’ll gradually have to find pieces of a manual and piece it together to fully understand the controls and how to play over the course of the game. Even Elden Ring had a standalone tutorial area (even if it was optional)
The whole experience is pretty brutal but a real eye-opening moment of what to expect from the game.
Later on, the puzzles get tougher, boss battles will tax and vex you, and some scenes are down-right infuriating. Fortunately, you will also get a shield to help repel some of the attacks and if you’re finding it all a bit much, you can slap on god-mode to make progress a lot easier.
But expectations will definitely be set and honestly, so early on in the game at the risk of alienating and off-putting people, it’s both an honest and appreciated gesture.
As someone who’s deep into the Souls genre and has been plying my trade with Elden Ring the past few weeks, I was absolutely ok with this. But I can understand someone not really getting the game, particularly if they also didn’t grow up in the SNES era and spend its launch traipsing through Hyrule.
Although Tunic celebrates a range of games, acknowledging them with its mechanics and paying respects with knowing references, there is a niche feel to the game that definitely targets a particular gaming demographic.
Even with the manual pieces you found scattered through the world and the way you can flick through those, while also guiding it around the screen to see the game overlayed with a CRT filter, given an 8 bit makeover.
But what is achieved by doing that is crafting a game that is solid, well-rounded, completely understands what it is, and is not afraid to make a player work hard to get enjoyment from it. That won’t be to everyone’s tastes, no doubt. But those that find it intriguing are liable to fall for Tunic very hard.
This adorable fox won’t win everyone over, but everyone else will wax lyrical about Tunic for weeks and months to come. For me, it’s a stunning triumph that enchanted me every step of the way. From its retro manuals to its hidden secrets, this is a world I lost myself in for days at a time and never wanted to leave. Nothing has come close to matching the joy I felt from Link to the Past all those years ago, until now!
+ Beautifully built environments
+ The world gradually unravels its secrets in continually clever ways
+ Wonderful musical score
+ Mysterious and ever-enchanting
– Difficult challenges won’t be for everyone
Tunic is out now on Xbox GamePass and PC
Played on PC and Xbox
Code Kindly Provided by Finji