Don’t let Tunic’s first-look charm fool you. Actually, it doesn’t matter – go ahead and enjoy this charm. It’s a gorgeous game with a colorful, almost Link’s Awakening art style, beautifully serene music, and an adorable sword-wielding fox for a protagonist. Enjoy it, because while Tunic may look like a simplistic isometric action-adventure that’s clearly inspired by the early Legend of Zelda games, it’s actually a thoroughly hardcore experience that will challenge both your spirit and your combat abilities. It’s not “more childish Zelda”, as its bushy-tailed hero suggests (although Tunic himself should be turned into an actual plushie right away). Instead, Tunic caught me off guard with its tough combat and intricate puzzles, and once I got my footing I found it executed wonderfully on that premise.
One of my favorite things about Tunic is that, like the old-school classics it’s clearly inspired by, it tells you nothing. Less than nothing, in fact: nearly all of his dialogue and in-game language is in an indecipherable script, Tunic never speaks, and there are no objective markers, clues, or threads. ‘Ariane strictly speaking. Everything should be intuitive, which is done partly through exploration but mostly through the individual pages of the game’s instruction manual that you’ll find scattered around the world.
Screenshots of the tunic
The booklet is modeled after what you’d find in the box of an NES-era game, with handwritten scribbles and annotations on some pages. This manual is also written in the Tunic language, but you will be able to find clues and instructions from the pictures in it – it doesn’t look like an IKEA instruction manual, but it is a similar idea. Paying close attention to it is absolutely vital, as my cautionary tale proves; I ended up getting into a badly underpowered first boss fight, but the frustration I felt as a result of that was my fault for not reading the manual carefully enough to understand the key that I missed. It’s an exceptionally smart way to guide us, even if it might lead you to check the IGN wiki from time to time (no shame!).
When you’re not pitted in your pieced together instruction manual, you’re either in the overworld or in one of the many dungeons where you’ll slash, block, dash and dodge your way to victory against The Wide Variety enemies of Tunic. Importantly, you don’t really learn any new moves after acquiring the sword in the first hour; it is rather your tactics that will have to evolve. This includes making good use of not only that basic move set in new ways, but also your items, the applications of which are also not explained at all. From sticks of dynamite to later magic items – all of which you’ll find hidden in chests around the world and can be purchased from a terrifying but harmless trader – understanding what each does and using them with clever strategies will lead to success. far more often than quickly mashing buttons. But sometimes you will need both.
My favorite of these items is easily the aforementioned sticks of dynamite that you’ll have access to from the jump. They are useful throughout the game, especially during boss fights. Sure, they’re good for taking out groups of baddies, but against a boss’ intimidating health bar, TNT is one of the most reliable ways to take out major chunks of them. They enjoy a certain… unpredictability in their functioning due to their physique. Don’t try to throw them at an opponent on a ledge, for example; Sure, Tunic has a pretty good arm, but dynamite doesn’t explode on contact. Rather, it will hit your target, then bounce and roll across the ground – depending on how it lands – before finally burning up. Enemies in or around water are also impervious to dynamite, as lit sticks go out instantly if they touch water…as you’d expect if you think about it.
Regardless of their size, your opponents aren’t easy players – even the simplest enemies, like a Husher or an Autobolt, can drain your health quickly. Their AI doesn’t stand out as overly smart or dumb, but each hits with a big punch. The bigger hero versions of vanilla villains of various types move slower but hit harder, and this wholesome assist from boss fights is not to be taken lightly. Good luck. And if you’re wondering, you can only save your game at flamelit shrines scattered around the world, and doing so will restore your health and magic bars, the tradeoff is that all enemies also reset. It’s an obvious nod to Dark Souls.
Let’s talk a bit more about these boss fights. They’re many, they’re memorable, and they’re the right kind. There are no difficulty settings to choose from in Tunic; there is only “Understand”. A simple multi-hit sword attack combo is both hinted at in your man pages and something you might figure out for yourself anyway, and it will be crucial to your chances of survival. However, the dodge roll that gives you a very brief window of invincibility is even more vital to your ability to take on Tunic bosses. Mastering it is a must, as is being able to quickly cycle through items you might need that aren’t already shortened to X, Y, and B. The moment you finally take down each boss truly feels like a well-deserved victory.
Like a classic top-down Zelda, Tunic has plenty of Metroidvania-style layers to eventually pull off, and that, too, is part of what I love about it. When you see a place you can’t get to, or a door you can’t get to, or something you don’t know how to activate, know that you’ll get that tool eventually – and when you come back see what happened quietly driving you crazy for many hours, you will finally have satisfaction. The world of Tunic, in general, is also a lovely place. The overworld is bright and colorful, while each dungeon has its own unique look, from the traditional fantasy spider cave at one end of the spectrum to the almost sci-fi monastery at the other.
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But not all of Tunic’s mysteries reveal themselves early on and torture you until the end of the game. Instead, new brain teasers are constantly revealing themselves, meaning you always have a new lead to pursue if you get frustrated or hit a dead end on the lead you’ve been following. This includes running up to and pass the endgame, where the knowledge you’ve accumulated acts as a boost that can lead you to any number of puzzle solving and revelations in a short time as you go back and discover things you’ve already gone through or watched dozens of times, but there’s still plenty to think about after the credits roll.
On that note, Tunic’s story is interesting as you piece it together, but admittedly, I didn’t feel particularly moved or satisfied by the end. My 15-20 hour trip meant a lot more than the destination to me, but maybe you’ll feel differently.