Originally unveiled at last year’s PlayStation Showcase, Tchia is an adventure game inspired by New Caledonia – a tiny island in the Pacific and the home of developer Awaceb’s two co-founders. At gamescom 2022, I was lucky enough to be invited to the studio’s tropical-themed booth, sit down with game director Phil Crifo and get my hands-on with the game for about 30 minutes.
From the get-go, I was impressed with Tchia’s commitment to portraying the beauty of New Caledonia: the fictional world of the game was clearly shaped by love and appreciation for the island’s rich landscape and cultures. Before even playing the game, I was shown and given a small art book which illustrated the lengths that the developers went to in order to make the world feel as authentic as possible.
For example, Tchia – the game’s namesake and 12-year old protagonist – wears clothing inspired by the children that the developer team met up with and photographed when on research visits. Similarly, all the voice acting was recorded by local talent in traditional languages, with subtitles being available in English, French and more. Even some of the island’s endemic animal species have been faithfully recreated.
This is important because animals feature heavily in Tchia, due in great part to an ability called Soul Jumping. This ability lets players control animals and other objects and is the main tool in Tchia’s arsenal as she seeks to rescue her family and her home from the threat of the Maanno, fabric-made creatures which are slowly taking over the two main islands which (mostly) make up the game’s world. By pressing L1, in my case, I was able to have Tchia possess dogs, turtles, fish, birds and most other animals and even items in my vicinity.
“I loved possessing animals and found this ability to be exhilarating…”
This first of all made travel much easier as, to give two examples, a deer runs much faster than Tchia and because a fish or a turtle will traverse large bodies of water with greater ease. But, secondly, some animals and objects came with unique abilities as well: when soaring around as a bird, I was also able to press R2 in order to poop. As of this preview, I’m still unclear as to what gameplay impact this could have, if any, but other abilities, such as igniting yourself when controlling a lantern, seemed to me to be more useful than others.
What limits Soul Jumping somewhat is a meter that depletes faster or slower depending on the animal you’re currently taking over, but this is rather negligible as it will quickly replenish upon Tchia regaining human form. This being said, I loved possessing animals and found this ability to be exhilarating if not quite as good as, say, capturing enemies or objects with Cappy in Super Mario Odyssey.
Now, this is not quite where the Nintendo parallels end as another important aspect of Tchia is locomotion, which is heavily inspired by another marquee Switch title of the last few years, namely Breath of the Wild. Like in Breath of the Wild, then, Tchia can freely climb on every surface: trees, boulders, etc and, like Link, comes equipped with a glider. The game also employs a stamina meter when Tchia is in her human form so a lot of the challenge behind the platforming comes from juggling this meter and the Soul Meter at the same time.
“There is a lot more to be said about Tchia…”
This makes the platforming very fun but I do unfortunately have some reservations about what there will be to do on the two main islands as the game world isn’t particularly large and jam-packed with meaningful activities. I am also under the impression that Tchia won’t be that rewarding to explore: during my time with the game, there was only one type of collectible to find, collectible which you would save up and then spend in order to unlock more clothing options. In terms of open-world activities, I got to do a time trial on a boat and put my slingshotting skills to the test but, despite both of them being perfectly fine, I did not feel like they would keep me engaged for too long and I do find myself slightly worried that they might end up being ultimately disposable.
Hopefully though, Tchia’s story will alleviate at least some concern as the game seems to be centred around a heartfelt story that unfolds in chapters and will take, as per the developers, about 7 to 10 hours of playtime to get through. Beyond the premise, what I know about the plot is that Tchia will seek the help of other islanders and that there are select key moments in which she plays her ukelele and enjoys a tender moment of sing-song with them. These moments are playable segments, which, mechanics-wise, borrow a lot from what we’ve seen before in The Last of Us Part II. The ukelele can also be used outside these moments and is very important because you can play songs (á la Wind Waker) that would alter the time of day or even invoke an animal of your choosing that you can then quickly possess.
There is a lot more to be said about Tchia – including about what the developers call ‘evasive combat’ – ahead of its now early 2023 release but what is here right now is very promising. And, importantly, from what I have seen so far, I am confident that the 14-people crew at Awaceb are pouring their hearts and souls into this project.