Andrew Shouldice, TUNIC Team, Isometricorp Games Limited, 22nd Century Toys LLC
Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Originally an Xbox and PC exclusive back in May of this year, I have had my eye on playing Tunic for my Playstation 5 for months. The promise of a Zelda-like adventure with a fresh art style and limited information from the game intrigued me. I’ve been a lifelong fan of the Zelda series (The first one I beat was Link’s Awakening). The formula of exploring a world and finding tools and abilities to allow you to advance has always been a design philosophy I’ve loved. The Developer, Andrew Shouldice, developed the game almost independently and brought their vision into Tunic. Now, Tunic is available on all major platforms. Did Tunic deliver what I once craved from the Zelda Games of yore? The answer is an almost resounding yes.
The isometric world you explore in Tunic is gorgeous. The island is enormous, has light fantasy touches, and hints that something much greater once existed here. Finding the next piece of gear, an upgrade, or discovering the path you must take next is almost always enthralling. The combat is an enjoyable amalgamation of ideas from Zelda and Dark Souls. The former is how you use a set of hot-keyed weapons or tools and a shield. The latter is that you have stamina depletes when you block or dodge and gain rechargeable healing items. Positioning, stamina management, and tool choice are critical to success. You can also parry enemy attacks to stun them and inflict significant damage. None of the items feel useless, and some minor experimentation is required to understand each one thoroughly. The enemies you fight are also varied and charming in r ways. The bosses you face have great designs, and On top of which, you find pages of a manual throughout the game. These provide tips and at one point thought I would love to have a fully printed version of it (and a plush of The Fox).
Within seconds of starting the adventure, the charismatic nature of Tunic becomes blindingly evident. The art style is both simplistic and advanced simultaneously. The Unity Engine is utilized here and makes the technical side of things shine. While rendered in a cell-shaded style, the other elements, like lighting, are exceptionally well-implemented. I believe this game should be used as a masterclass on implementing lighting in various environments. Everything from the protagonist, the enemies, and the special effects is simple but carefully crafted. It’s incredibly admirable.
Tunic’s soundtrack is perfect. While somewhat hard to describe, it meets the mood of each part of the island you visit. This also includes the boss battle music, which always stands out. Tunic is also very optimized as well. Playing the game on my PlayStation 5, I encountered a frame stutter or two, and it didn’t happen after those instances. Load times are short, and all the menus are responsive. There is also a nice bevy of technical options, such as a no-failure mode and a speed run assistance mode. With all this, it’s an excellent foundation, but a few design choices form a bit of a double-edged sword.
Despite the quality of Tunic, there are things that I could not overlook. While the world is gorgeous, and the isometric camera is used to significant effect, it sometimes hinders the hunt for items and upgrades. Invisible walls in unexpected places cause you to spend an incredible amount of time running up against everything, looking for possible spots missed. I encountered a secret wall that you must press the action button against, but there was no indication of something being there. I also got stuck trying to get to a section of the map. I thought it was because I was missing the necessary item to progress. The ladder needed to access a stage was obscured enough that I passed it over several times. The dodging and dashing option was the other portion that I thought could use retooling. The Fox can sprint regardless of whether he has the stamina, but to do so, you must first dodge. This caused issues in quite a few fights as your base movement speed is slow. One boss, in particular, was beyond frustrated because of this. While I love the way the manual, there is much about it that is too cryptic. The two parts that need the most sleuthing are the skill cards and how to upgrade your Fox. The skill cards have names listed, but it doesn’t entirely help with what each skill card does. I also figured out how to upgrade by accident after six or seven hours of game time. I am lovely with things being hidden to discover as long as you can naturally learn about their existence. Now, this could very well just have been my comprehension skills that led to the latter issue, but it bears mentioning.
Regardless though, the heights Tunic reaches significantly eclipse the lows. In the grand scheme, I had a great time with Tunic, and I look forward to coming back and see if I can fully complete the game beyond just the story ending.
Stumbles won't stop you
Tunic has a few things that are just a bit to vague or cryptic and a couple of other small gripes. Despite that, Tunic is a great game and absolutely worth your time!