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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Finji
Developer: Tunic Team
Release Date: March 16, 2022


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PC Review - 'Tunic'

by Cody Medellin on March 16, 2022 @ 10:00 a.m. PDT

Tunic is an action-adventure that features a tiny fox in a big world. Explore the wilderness, discover spooky ruins, and fight terrible creatures from long ago.

Early 2015 was when the gaming world heard about Secret Legend via the creator's Twitter account. With only two weeks of work behind it, the colorful picture of a fox with a sword and shield sparked a great deal of interest in the gaming community. Two years later, the title changed to Tunic and signed with a publisher, Finji, but work was far from complete. In 2018, it was announced that Tunic would be an exclusive title to the PC and Xbox One, but the game still lacked a release date. Seven years after that initial tweet, Tunic is finally being released, and this is a game where the long wait with scant details was completely worth it.

As in many good adventure games, there's a story in Tunic. Unlike many modern games or even classic ones, the tale is shrouded in mystery. When the game starts, after a panoramic shot of the island, the camera focuses on a fox that has washed ashore. Once the fox wakes up, the game begins with no further explanation. No hints are conveyed, so it falls on your instincts to explore and see what you can find, much like a classic NES game. The few pieces of text are written in a different script, and it also appears in the in-game instruction booklet, so some dedicated fans will no doubt try to decipher it all.

Developer Andrew Shouldice has gone on record stating that Tunic had had some heavy design influences from The Legend of Zelda, and that is readily apparent when you boot up the game. Your first weapon is a stick, a simple analog to the iconic wooden sword from the first game. You'll eventually get a real sword that can also cut down grass and bushes, and you'll get a shield to block projectiles. Other tools come into play and hearken back to the early era games, like a lantern for dark areas and various bombs. Taking a page from the 3D games, you can perform dodge rolls and enemy lock-ons while also unleashing a few striking combos instead of a simple strike.

The biggest sign of the Zelda influence is in the exploration and puzzle bits. One thing that makes the exploration feel distinct is the isometric viewpoint, a compromise between the classic's overhead view and the modern 3D behind-the-back viewpoint. The camera is immutable, so there's no way to change the rotation or zoom, and locking on to enemies only tilts the camera slightly higher for a better vantage point. For the most part, there are no accidental enemy obstructions due to this viewpoint, but the game is built with areas that are intentionally blocked. Some of those lead to secret areas with cash or upgrade items. Others hide alternate paths to a new area that may or may not be easier than the more visible pathways. A few times, finding these routes is necessary to progress, but most of them act as bonuses to make you feel smart for being willing to poke at the edges.

While The Legend of Zelda is publicly known to be one of the game's influences, the other game that Tunic borrows from is Dark Souls. Stamina governs a good deal of what you do, forcing you out of a constant shield-ready state if you're repeatedly hit or preventing you from dodge-rolling through areas that you'd normally walk through. Deplete your stamina, and you are vulnerable to taking on more damage than usual. Enemies provide tells before they attack, and they respawn every time you go to a statue and pray. The statues also act as refill points for all of your health and potions, and dying means having to return to the spot of your death to retrieve the things you'd lost or risk losing them permanently.

Those who hear about the Souls influence might brace themselves for the worst, but Tunic seems to counter the turn-offs for those who aren't fans of the series. Dodging and shield blocking may take stamina, but attacking does not, so you're encouraged to go on the offensive more rather than stay defensive and rely on counters. Stamina also refills rather quickly, so you won't spend much time waiting around. Dying may make you lose some currency, but every item you obtained and puzzle you completed stays in that state, so the losses aren't severe when respawning.

The mix of both styles works very well thanks in part to those cutbacks, as you're forced to act more strategically during fights but not at the expense of thorough exploration. Combat feels crisp due to the responsive controls. The pace keeps things interesting, whether you're seeing giant ghostly foxes that don't immediately harm you, obelisks that don't immediately make their purpose known, or points that you need to return to snag some treasure. New enemies force you to fight differently, but it's satisfying to tricking different types of foes into fighting one another.

As expected, the new areas with different biomes keep things interesting, and the lack of load times maintains the illusion that this is one giant connected island, especially when you reach higher areas and see places that you've visited before far off in the distance. You spend quite a bit of time enjoying this; the campaign clocks in the low double digits, which feels perfect. The number of secrets and little things to discover increases the playtime, and that will no doubt inspire multiple playthroughs.

One aspect of Tunic will intrigue people: the in-game instruction manual. When you start the game, it does not exist. You only see it when you pick up a page in the game world, and even then, you only pick up a random double-sided page of the manual. Looking at it, the text is written in the game's rune-like script, but the images have text written out in the Roman script. Initially, you'd think that this is useless since the game provides a decent amount of time to figure out the basics, and those who do button checks at the start of the game will learn what everything does before finding a relevant page in-game.

When you consider the game's main influence, the manual ends up being the most important tool since it becomes the only hint book. From listing out how to perform some of the more advanced moves like a rolling slash to filling out a bestiary and providing hand-drawn maps, it does a very good job of showing why old instruction booklets were so beloved. On a side note, viewing the booklet means that the game gets zoomed out with a curved CRT filter. It's charming because it feels like you're playing a game within a game.

The presentation is stunning. The world may be comprised of some simple polygons, but the camera zoom and angle do a good job of not making that stand out unless you decide to give the game a closer look. The lighting and shadows do the rest of the job by blanketing everything in vivid hues and dark blacks, amplifying the colors to make the game look picturesque. The animations are smooth, while the particle effects make everything look much better, especially since an abundance of on-screen elements doesn't impact the frame rate.

There are no voices, so the score carries the whole thing sonically, and it does a masterful job of it. Tonal shifts from calm to combat-ready never feel sudden, while every track feels perfect for the given situation. This is one soundtrack that you don't want to mute in favor of your own tunes.

Tunic is an absolute gem of a game. The combat is exciting without being overly difficult or frantic. The exploration feels organic without dragging on for too long. The dual inspirations of The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls complement each other, and the isometric viewpoint makes it feel fresh when compared to other titles inspired by one of the aforementioned games. The time needed to knock out the campaign feels just right, while still naturally encouraging you to try another run to see all of the game's secrets. With no real negatives to speak of, it feels only right that Tunic occupy a spot in the library of any adventure fan.

Score: 9.0/10

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