One Truly Is The Magic Number
Covering TUNIC wasn't in my itinerary for the day, in fact, I planned to cover something completely different. Almost without warning, it was announced that the long-awaited isometric action game would be released. Not "Soon, Next Week, or Later Today," but right now. Not only that, it would be released on Day 1 on Xbox Game Pass. This opened the door for many, such as myself, to try out the new game almost immediately. It did take a few hours to hit Game Pass, but sure enough, it was available for download.
What's special about this game is that it was developed by only one person. Andrew Shouldice, formerly a part of Silverback Games, would leave the company to work on TUNIC full-time. Drawing inspiration from a certain "classic triangle-seeking game," TUNIC was in development since 2015. This makes the sudden release all the more notable as it was something that came out of nowhere. Here is the result of one person's blood sweat and tears for over half of a decade.
All Caps When You Spell The Game's Name
The game begins with a fox who wakes up shoreside, granting the player immediate access to the character. Shortly thereafter, the fox comes across a stick, which will be the player's first weapon they will use for a short while. Upon obtaining the stick, players will notice something that will cause them to question if their copy is 'broken'. It is here that the game's unique mechanic makes its appearance. TUNIC has its own in-game language that co-exists alongside whatever default language the player has the game set to.
Other games, specifically Final Fantasy X with the Al Bhed language, feature "in-game" languages as well. Usually, this is accompanied by a measure to understand it. Going to FFX as an example, the player has to find Al Bhed Primers to "learn" the language and thus understand it. To my knowledge, there's no such thing to understand TUNIC's language but there's a lot of contextualization. A stick, obviously, is a weapon, and the game nudges that to equip weapons you assign it to a face button. A stick of dynamite is a type of bomb, so that's also a weapon assigned to a face button. A key opens locked doors and one found very early will introduce the player to backtracking.
TUNIC Is Like Playing A Japanese Exclusive Action Game
Using the required ability to play 'context clues,' TUNIC is a game that teaches the player about visualization. Its inferred plot begins with an older fox woman trapped in a shard of glass. All that is left to go by ultimately is to acquire three
pieces of the Triforce artifacts to free them. The first order of business is to ring two bells, one from the East and West. The player knows this by these pages of an in-game instruction manual scattered across the world.
In the past, an instruction manual taught the player all there was needed to know about the game they would play for the next several hours. Important tidbits like game hints, controls, item descriptions, and a map of the world would be included. TUNIC is no different and it is how the player will learn how to do certain actions. One of the first pages tells the player to ring the bells and the locations on where to go to access. How do you get there? Consort to the map, which the player will also find on their adventures. The problem here is that the manual is written in the game's "default" language. There are some words in English to help the player out, usually in the form of footnotes.
Instructions Unclear, Sword Stuck In A Brick Wall
Thanks to the visualization of the manual and simply figuring things out for myself, the gameplay is very easy to grasp. The target lock system is similar to other 3D Zelda titles in that the Fox circles their opponent. Repeated attacks will stagger the enemy while rolling at the right time evades attacks. The number of invulnerability frames is determined by the dust the fox kicks up during their roll. Rolling costs stamina and four rolls are enough to tire the Fox out. This is bad as the next hit will not only stun the Fox, but they will take 1.5 times the amount of damage until their stamina recovers. Eventually, the Fox gets a shield that also eats stamina alongside an actual sword.
Gaining access to the sword opens up the world slowly to the player, allowing them to strike at bushes and rocks that they couldn't before with the stick. This leads to the game's first boss which is by no means a difficult one. Simple evasion and knowing when to not be greedy will speed things along. After his defeat, the player rings the bell by striking it, and the East Bell is conquered. Maybe with the new sword, the player can access areas they couldn't before on the map?
Hidden Passage Ahead
Due to the nature of TUNIC's isometric view, there are various changes of perspectives that lead to "hidden" areas for players to discover. If the ground texture is different than the rest of the passageway, maybe there's a chest hidden behind the trees? If there's a walkway next to a waterfall, perhaps you can walk behind the waterfall and find a secret? Not all secrets are good ones as you could be like me and enter a pitch-black cave only to barely leave with my head intact.
While made apparent, TUNIC is not a graphically intensive game. It is, however, a beautiful game that utilizes soft shading and simple 3D polygons. The art style reminds me of another game with a similar aesthetic called Art of Rally. It's amazing that small studios are able to bring such vibrant worlds to life. TUNIC reminds me of a colorful Death's Door, another game we looked at briefly by an equally small studio. There are tons of hidden secrets to discover as the Fox attempts to save their guardian, so we'll come back to this title soon. First impressions are very high for this lovely blend of Zelda and Souls.
TUNIC is available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC via Game Pass.