Updated: Sep 8
Developer: Andrew Shouldice and TUNIC Team
I had the opportunity to play a short demo of TUNIC way back in 2018, when I attended Dreamhack Austin. However, some fans of this game have been awaiting for even longer than that - it began work way back in 2015. I was excited for its release, but ended up waiting a bit since I was wary of the game's difficulty and cryptic nature of its language. However, seeing it was on Xbox Game Pass, I finally decided to just go for it. TUNIC is a Zelda-like action adventure game about a little fox in a ruined kingdom. TUNIC is absolutely stunning, mysterious, addicting, and just the right amount of difficult while capturing the feeling of endless adventure.
TUNIC throws you in with almost no instructions. You're a little fox without a weapon, only the ability to roll dodge. The world is beautiful but hostile and you must avoid enemies until you find a stick to defend yourself with. Even though the game gives you no direct tutorial of where to go or what to do, the environment does give you some guidance as to if you're going the right way. You start finding individual, separate sheets of a manual for the game, which begin to give you a little bit of instruction about your goal. Almost message you find is in a language you can't read, so you have to take every context clue given to try to make something out of it. You figure out that you must ring an East Bell and a West Bell to make something else happen. As you progress, the story continues to slowly be revealed to your through the environment and the manual. You never quite know if you're doing the right thing or going the right way, but I rarely found myself getting lost.
TUNIC is spectacular in its art style. Its isometric world is like one giant castle or toybox, but with incredibly realistic and detailed lighting effects. It's just a bit reminiscent of the Link's Awakening remake, but also pretty different from its brighter look. The monsters are sometimes cute-looking, but the world has a darkness and ominous feeling to it as well. The music of TUNIC was stuck in my head all day when I wasn't playing the game. It's so dreamy and mysterious yet it evokes the feeling of adventure and excitement. It's probably one of my favorite soundtracks in a while and a perfect one to listen to during a long work day. This may not be the best way to describe it, but all I can is that the vibes in TUNIC are immaculate.
As a child, my first Zelda game was Ocarina of Time and I didn't play the original Legend of Zelda on NES until I was a couple years older. For this reason, I don't share the experience of being a kid discovering that game for the first time and learning to play it through a manual - which is clearly one of the main influences for TUNIC. However, I still felt that this game reminded me of what it's like being a kid playing a game for the first time and being full of wander and excitement about the possibilities. When you're that age, you really take your time with a game and take it all in, despite it perhaps being overwhelming and confusing to you. Funny enough, the way that TUNIC was in its own unknown language actually reminded me of my experience playing video games when I was just barely learning English. Spanish was my first language, so I actually learned a good bit of English phrases from Ocarina of Time for the first time. TUNIC made me feel like I was a kid again, but this time I got to experience what it's like to play a game while having the manual by my side. This game was full of mysteries and puzzles to solve, so I do think it was intended to be collaborated on with fellow players. I didn't join the Discord for the game but I found that fans on the TUNIC subreddit were very good at giving "hints" without giving away the full answer, so I appreciated that.
TUNIC's combat is relatively simple. It functions like a Zelda game, but with the rules of a Souls game. Dodging is incredibly important, but if you can get close to an unshielded enemy you can just button mash attack them at your sword. At first I wasn't sure if I liked the combat, but it really grew on me. It felt satisfying to properly dodge enemies and get behind them, or make good use of my magic items. The bosses were hard, sure, but they were sensible and had a pattern that made sense. I didn't feel like I had to be perfectly timed on everything to defeat them. Also, if you lose a fight, it gives you the opportunity to try again with different items. Often times since you find a new item and you don't know what it's for, so you really just have to try it and see what sticks. I knew this was a Souls-like going in, so I was worried about losing everything if I died. However, the game is fairly forgiving in that only some of your currency is dropped when you die, and reuniting with your spirit actually harms the nearby enemies as well. Also, I was comforted by the fact that TUNIC actually includes accessibility options to turn down the difficulty, even though I didn't end up using them after all. There's a big incentive to upgrade your abilities, find more items, and equip more power-ups, which means it's really worth exploring everything you can before advancing to a new boss. The game is jam-packed with secrets - there's always a treasure chest just out of sight of a long path hiding behind a wall. I really enjoyed taking the time to find these as much as I could. I'm sure I didn't find every treasure, but I was able to almost fully upgrade my stats so most of them were reasonable to find.
TUNIC took me by surprise. When I first played the demo, I thought it looked alright but it seemed simple on the surface. However, it's a game that gives you more and more the deeper you go. I thought I was finished playing it once I saw the credits, but as I continued finding more pages of the manual I realized I had only scraped the surface. Even now, there's more I could decipher, explore, or solve. I'm always a little skeptical to play Zelda-like games because I tend to compare them harshly to Zelda, but this game stands apart in such a unique way that I didn't have that problem. I highly recommend this game; its challenge is worthwhile and can be turned down if needed.
Note: This is a wild little fact but I actually played this entire game via cloud gaming on my Steam Deck. I was a huge skeptic of cloud gaming, but I have to admit that with really good internet (I currently have fiber internet), it can actually work pretty amazingly. I never felt a lag or delay even during fights. If you're thinking about using Game Pass on your Steam Deck, this is a decent way to go if you do have good internet.
TUNIC is available on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S
Played on: PC (Steam Deck)
Playtime: 21 hrs