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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: HypeTrain Digital
Developer: LEAP Game Studios
Release Date: Nov. 2, 2021


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PC Review - 'Tunche'

by Cody Medellin on April 22, 2022 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Tunche is a fresh take on the time-tested 2D beat-'em-up genre that delivers familiar hack-and-slash gameplay with a unique twist.

The inclusion of roguelike elements in various genres is a double-edged sword. In some cases, it adds more spice to something that can be considered formulaic and repetitive, making those experiences feel new but familiar. For other genres, the implementation feels forced and turns something that could be enjoyable into a slog until the final moment, when you get one good run to beat the game. Tunche falls into the latter category, but it has enough going for it to keep you interested.

Tunche is set in the Peruvian portion of the Amazon Rainforest, where five characters have come together to bring calm to the place. They all theorize that disharmony is caused by the malevolent spirit of the forest Tunche. While they want to bring peace to the land, they also have their own reasons for seeking out the spirit.

If you're a sucker for lore, then you'll have mixed feelings about how it is delivered. In addition to the setup at the beginning, you get optional scenes between each boss fight. Backstory is presented throughout the journey in a comic book style, but due to the nature of the game, all of that is randomized. You'll get stories specific to your character, so it'll require multiple playthroughs with every character to get the complete story and the prologue. It's fine for those who don't care about this stuff, but it's agonizing for those looking for games to deliver more than just gameplay.

Speaking of which, Tunche plays like a slightly tweaked beat-'em-up. Either solo or in a local group of up to four players, you can choose which of the five protagonists you want on the adventure. Each has a different play style, from the all-arounder Yumi, who specializes in magic, to Nayra, who can attack at a distance. Qaru is the quick one of the group, Pancho is a tank-style brawler, and the special character Hat Kid feels like a mix of Yumi and Nayra but with more eccentric weaponry. No matter who you choose, you have at least two attack buttons. The game employs a style system that encourages you to defeat enemies by dishing out varied combos along with air juggling and attacks — all while not trying to get hit often so things look flawless. The end of a fight may dole out random rewards like new orbs for powers or currency, but the amount is determined by how high you get that style meter before the fight ends.

While the game is inspired by classic beat-'em-ups, the levels aren't continuous. It's more of a room-based thing, where you walk a few steps before the scrolling stops and you're plagued with enemies. Defeat them all, and you get a prompt to continue to the next room and do it all again, but there are a few times when you'll be able to choose your direction on a split path; icons inform you about whether you'll be able to shop for temporary upgrades or get a different type of currency.

The combat can be a thing of beauty because you'll need to get in a decent amount of hits to take down an enemy, and there's some good variety to your combos. Being able to juggle a foe in the air then immediately dart down to another foe remains exhilarating — more so with more people in tow. The latter doesn't happen immediately, as you need to power up your character to unlock that stuff, and you'll need a few upgrades before you feel like you're getting more powerful. That occurs once you return to home base, whether that means ending your run prematurely once you get the necessary currency or by dying; unlike other roguelikes, dying only robs you of forward progress.

The result of this is a beat-'em-up that can feel like a grind early on, as it takes quite a bit of effort to take out the enemies in the room. The cost for each upgrade is steep enough that it takes a few runs to make progress, while the suite of temporary upgrades is small but not strong enough to change the tide of a fight. It's a slow burn of a game that's made slower because each character needs to be upgraded individually, so it doesn't encourage swapping characters.

If there's anything that contributes to the feeling of a grind, it's the fact that randomization is completely missing. A hallmark of the roguelike genre, the absence of randomization means that you know exactly which enemies to look expect and exactly which boss you'll face. The pathways aren't diverse enough that you'll benefit from a big currency upgrade, and the levels lack random environmental hazards to keep you on your toes. It plays things safe in that regard, but it also means exhibiting more patience than usual before you get to the good stuff with boss fights and the game's back half.

For those looking for any post-game content, the bad news is that it doesn't exist. There are no extra missions or new difficulty levels. New modes aren't here, and there are no extras to peruse. Unless you're willing to collect all of the pieces of lore or fully power up all five characters, don't expect much else when the credits roll.

No matter what you think of the actual gameplay, the presentation is top-notch. For the audio, the standout is the soundtrack, which is a good mix of traditional wind instruments coming together to deliver tunes that feel at home in the genre while feeling like it matches the setting. The graphics are a standout; the hand-drawn graphics make the animations look fluid. The cartoon style gives the game a sense of whimsy, while the big boss creatures look especially gorgeous. It doesn't take much hardware-wise to ensure that the game delivers on a 60fps experience, even with all four players and a bunch of enemies on-screen, so it looks great in still pictures and in motion.

Tunche isn't for everyone. Traditional beat-'em-up fans will like the frantic action of the combo system, even if it takes a few runs to get going, but they'll hate the lack of forward progression. Roguelike fans will enjoy the gradual character empowerment but hate the lack of randomization of bosses and enemies. It falls into a specific niche that appeases people who enjoy the minimal mixing of both, and in that respect, Tunche delivers an experience that can be enjoyable if you know what you're getting into.

Score: 7.0/10

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