Tunic is an isometric action-adventure game with recursive elements from solo developer Andrew Shouldice. It bills itself as a game about secrets, and it’s a description that couldn’t be more accurate.
You take control of a tunic-wearing fox who awakens on a beach with very little context as to what to do. You’re drawn to a giant golden door that transports you to an ethereal world where another fox is imprisoned, seemingly by the power of three radiant gems. From that point forward, Tunic pretty much leaves you to discover and interpret the world as you see fit. Its overt similarities to the Legend of Zelda series early on works as a sort of shorthand for guidance, as even sign posts are composed of a foregin language with only specific words legible. You’ll search out a sword, come across a shield, and traverse dungeons filled with enemies, but some of the first items you’ll collect on your journey are pages of an NES-styled instruction manual.
These pages are found out of order but tend to grant you just the right amount of guidance, leading you by the nose blindly through Tunic’s cryptic adventure. For example, the info for upgrading your character can be found on a manual page, and without it, it probably would have taken several hours longer to realize how to do it despite the functionality always being there.
However, that’s only a small example of the revelations Tunic has in store for you. There are secrets everywhere. Obscure passages, secret doors, and hidden shortcuts saturate the world. A chest sitting just out of reach usually requires only a keen eye and due diligence to discover a path to it. Other secrets will require the use of special items though. You’ll find new tools that allow you to navigate the world in ways you simply couldn’t before, granting access to new areas and new combat options.
Your capable fox has a three-hit combo that lunges towards enemies on the final attack. You’re able to target foes to strafe around them and can shield or roll for defense. You also have a parry, but it has an impractically long wind-up. The mix of enemy types offer up a decent test of your skills, as they can either overwhelm you in hordes or force your retreat with spells and projectiles. Your arsenal of consumable items like bombs are a godsend for tough encounters, but special items like a wand that fires projectiles are equally useful.
Unfortunately, the targeting system is frustrating; it would regularly lock on to the wrong enemies or even interactable objects in the middle of fights, which would lead to pretty cheap damage while trying to cycle through to the right target. Boss encounters fared better due to being single targets, but it’s not as fun as it could have been. Although, combat is rarely a major draw for these kinds of games.
The sense of exploration and the desire to uncover all you can in Tunic’s world is strong. The game does an impeccable job of teasing out new areas to you as you make progress while constantly recontextualizing older ones with new abilities or information. It supplies you with satisfying eureka moments at a regular pace but also makes each new one feel multiple times more impactful than the last.
The strong visual identity of the lands helps a lot in recalling where something important is located so you can get back to it. Tunic’s look is adorably cozy with bushes that look like soft felt and understated sound effects for things like switches and bridges dropping. Its diorama presentation looks wonderful draped in the game’s powerful lighting. It doesn’t shy away from filling you with dread when it wants to though, as soothing piano can give way to dramatic techno when you’re in a big fight.
Tunic leaves a great first impression, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. After 15 hours I’m still scouring the press review Discord server for hints at cracking the game’s many mysteries. It’s a game that requires time and collaboration to fully dissect, and it is a grand and rewarding experience for it. Tunic is out today for $29.99 on PC, Mac, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X | S.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Tunic.