Indie games have gone a long way from obscurity, and more quality titles have been incepted since the Indie rocket has taken off. Indie games are GOOD, and push quality while breaking the mould that traditional high-budget games have created. Enter TUNIC, a good example of what Indie gaming is capable of. A huge title with excellent mechanics, beautiful artwork, and solid production surrounds TUNIC, with inspiration given from many popular games, and a lovably small fox protagonist with a huge personality.
Despite its colourful and approachable look, TUNIC will throw players through a gauntlet of varying degrees of difficulty. There are ZERO tutorials, which is an excellent game mechanic itself. The player’s intuition will be tested continuously in their playthrough, and while the main fox protagonist is cute, TUNIC is a difficult ride. Upon starting, the game’s fantastic graphics and landscape are a sight to behold, but enemies also greet you almost immediately. Sprinting away in the opening segment is the only option, as there is NO way to fight back.
This is a beautiful concept, TUNIC takes inspiration from classics such as Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, which assumes the person behind the controller can just “figure it out.” I usually complain heavily about game tutorials, but the lack of one leaves the player looking around lost like Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction. The assumption the player knows what they’re doing makes each advancement in TUNIC a herculean task that feels rewarding to overcome.
“A gorgeous setting is available to explore and wandering around has a gravitational depth to it.”
The graphics feel like Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’s remake DNA was injected right into the makeup of the title. A gorgeous setting is available to explore and wandering around has a gravitational depth to it. The Foxy hero bounces along with each step and the weight behind it feels like it should. Impact with enemies is also felt, narrow escapes are nail-biting, all the while a haunting musical score serenades the atmosphere, completing the entire setting with a flourish. The designers sign the game’s canvas heartily with care, as all the title’s inclusions work in harmony and don’t take away from the overall experience.
The tutorial concept (or lack thereof) is somehow embraced further. As the player ventures forth, they will find pages of a guidebook that is inspired by old-school gaming guides that usually come as inserts with the packaging. This is another incredible concept that uses nostalgia in a novel way that drags the player back to rifling through a guidebook hopeful for tips. Instead of locating the game case though, players merely need to hit the Back/Select/Game Menu button to turn through the guide.
Certain game mechanics will be explained and expanded on in the guidebook as the player collects more of the pages, and as the player advances farther in the game, the guidebook follows, becoming more and more translated. The title tries so hard to tell the player nothing, that even certain markers in the game aren’t translated and are illegible to read, leaving the guidebook a golden lifeline to help figure the game out. The fantastic artwork featured in the guidebook is seeping with personality. The cartoony illustration of the protagonist’s dying breath shows Xs placed over their eyes and an arrow in their back, flooding the page with character and much needed laughs. This is how TUNIC tries to describe what happens after the players’ health runs out.
“Combat in TUNIC is HARD.”
Combat in TUNIC is HARD. Small enemies can swarm you and make your bushy tail stop, but fast movement and learning enemy behavior can make you a fox to be reckoned with. Before retrieving the sword, combat should be avoided, as the stick you first locate is a laugh riot against enemies with swords. A dodge roll is a godsend inclusion for the early parts of the game, but upon finding the shield, the fox becomes a world class tank. Successfully blocking enemy attacks after being reduced to ribbons is the most satisfying feeling, the fox is truly a shield hero. A mixture of sword swipes, dodge rolls, magic spells, and item usage can almost make your protagonist the first of the Fox Witcher School.
The combat is satisfying and responsive, even deflecting certain projectiles can demolish other enemies. A floating ice shooting ‘fairy’ can freeze other enemies, but huge sword swinging damaging soldiers can break these with ease. Oftentimes I found myself creating a huge melee in combat to erupt a free for all. This can be positive, chaotic, and just excellent fun when enemies are destroying each other, but death can happen far easier, as most enemies focus on our hero instead of each other. The attention to detail is notable as well. Projectiles shot can be strategically avoided using the landscape, bombs thrown can roll off ledges rendering them useless, and even when the protagonist is set on fire a dodge roll can put it out.
The use of fire checkpoints is a notable nod to the Dark Souls series of games, and the character can run back to where they last perished to retrieve their currency they dropped, and upon collection, there is a small crowd controlling explosion that can be used strategically in combat. A small cutscene happens when you first perish, but thankfully doesn’t plague the player after the first time.
Upgrading stats also happens at the foxy fireplaces, but offerings must be made to increase stats. A found fang can increase Attack output, while wooden fox statues can increase Defense. Replenishing health at these resting points, not only refills health potions that function very much like Estus Flasks, but respawns enemies on the map besides bosses. Another nod to the Souls series, is there is NO difficulty setting, the only thing the player can do is “get good” at TUNIC. Fox-Souls, indeed.
Item management can also help heroes venture further. Having trouble against a huge room of enemies? Dynamite sticks can make quick work of that. Have no health, or potions? A red berry can restore health in a pinch. Decoy-like items can distract enemies, and they are wonderfully designed after the main character. There are many ways to approach each encounter, and the title implores the player to try. Shooting a barrel with a laser spell can make an explosion and light enemies on fire, but enemies can also do this, leaving the player with heavy damage and a mental note that standing next to exploding barrels is not recommended.
“TUNIC is a breathtakingly beautiful game with novel ideas that borrow from many games that have come before it. “
Each dungeon has different aspects that demand the player’s focus. Breaking boxes can reveal new passages, and a found lantern can illuminate darkened corridors. After making certain progress in a dungeon, heroes can find shortcuts that fast-track progress, and these are gifts from the fox gods, because death happens OFTEN.
At the finale of dungeons, there are huge boss fights that demand full focus, giving one more struggle to persevere through after a gruelling quest. Mechanics can reveal weak spots in the boss, giving a chance to punish huge enemies. And power techniques such as a HUGE laser can take you down in one shot if you don’t avoid it. After standing on the pile of rubble that used to be a boss, the Fox hero stands taller than anything else.
TUNIC is a breathtakingly beautiful game with novel ideas that borrow from many games that have come before it. The small Fox has many trials and tribulations that are highly difficult to overcome, and a combat system that wasn’t skimped on. There is a certain lack of a storyline in TUNIC, but it could be by design, and it is not missed much.
The whole game works in excellent tandem, to bring a harmonious product to the player behind the sticks in a small furry package. Like many other games that feature nail-biting boss fights, TUNIC has the charm of inviting the player for another attempt, to which the player will whole heartily reply, “one more try.”