Thank you to Finji (website/twitter) for providing me with a review code and the media assests!
TUNIC is an action-adventure game available on PC, Xbox One, & Xbox Series S|X.
Note: This is a spoiler-free review.
TUNIC is a game cultivated and brought to us in the modern day, to replicate a fondness that feels almost lost to the past. Being an homage to the era of nostalgia, the developer Andrew Shouldice set out to achieve a video game experience that recreates the energy and atmosphere of classic action adventure titles we played when we were young. Lucky for us, that's exactly what he did.
From combat, to word-less world building, to even the character design and mechanics - TUNIC to its core is a functioning tribute to the past. A time without guide books, without helping hands or linear plots. Back when games would boot up, point you in a direction, and say "have fun." It's a game of exploration, determination, patience, and if you're devoted enough, rewards. Patience and curiosity go a long way in this title, with so many unknowns, big and small, tucked away throughout the world in optical illusions and clever tricks.
I wanted to write that this game is full of secrets, but really the entire game ITSELF is a secret. Playing as a valiant little fox making their way through the world, you slowly but surely begin to unravel the clandestine mysteries hidden below the surface. The truly captivating part of this experience is how the game manages to do that.
Initially provided with what are the first few pages of the game's instruction manual (much like the ones included in cases back in the day), you begin piecing together all the classic quests as you collect pages – where you need to go, what you need, what is your purpose. Some pages are your standard tutorials and tips, while others are maps and pieces of unreadable lore. Almost the entire book is in a symbolic language that is long forgotten... so you really have your work cut out for you.
Luckily as I played through TUNIC, I wasn't alone! Collaborating with other players in the provided Press Discord (compliments to Finji for creating and moderating it!) felt akin to congregating with friends and classmates when I was younger. After spending hours the night before in The Legend of Zelda, coming to school the next day with some new secret to bestow upon the others was a thrill that TUNIC managed to successfully recreate.
While the art style and world building might be whimsical and endearing, the combat takes a complete 180° turn. Punishing, no-holds-barred engagement that isn't afraid to take you out. Even with your slowly growing arsenal: keep your rolls tight, blocking is always important, and don't be afraid to use consumables. The simplicity of the combat is truly misleading in the sense that you can absolutely bite off more than you can chew.
It's interesting because somehow the developer managed to create an experience that doesn't [yield] to being hard just for the sake of it. The difficulty of the combat feels deliberate; a dare to step forward and challenge yourself, but also as a way to connect with the titles of the past it's built from. NES-era games with no instructions, no forgiveness.
With all that being said, you can still enjoy this game. Now, now, now, I know I just went on for two paragraphs saying how difficult the combat is. When in doubt, there is a fail safe: No Fail Mode & No Stamina Consumption, and those are exactly what they mean. Turning No Fail on allows you to be hit without taking any damage and No Stamina Consumption... doesn't consume stamina.
It was a nice surprise having the opportunity to choose either or both these options, as they allow varying levels of support to help you on your mission. You can also turn these on at any possible time by going to the options menu, and I mean any possible time. No need to reload or anything, you can switch them on or off to help overcome a particularly difficult obstacle, or if you just decide you want to explore the world without fear of consequences.
These options open up the player's possibilities, allowing you to take things at your own pace and truly enjoy the experience you would like. Looking for a challenge? TUNIC squares up no problem. Looking for a charming fantasy world to comb through every nook, cranny and detail? TUNIC is ready and waiting for you.
While I wish there was a mechanic that allowed you to mark the map with icons or something, I did keep a notebook of my steps and information I discovered along the way, and it was such an enjoyable experience. That exercise alone, taking the time to keep track of my progress and things I'd like to go back and do, really drove home the true retro, classic experience the game strives to give us.
Beyond it being my first game I've ever been provided with a pre-release review code for, TUNIC was truly a magical experience for me and will be a lifelong favourite. I've only just beaten what is considered the 'main story' but there are still so many secrets to find and things to collect. I can't wait to keep digging deeper and continue to be delighted by what the post-game content holds.
While I think going in blind is the best way to do it, going in blind with a friend is even better. Someone to help you explore and share all the wonders of this little world. My tips for you? Pay attention to the details, always double check, take your time... and be patient. If you do, TUNIC will not disappoint.
And there you have it! My first pre-release review ever. Are you going to play TUNIC? Are you going to play TUNIC after having read this little piece? Let me know over on twitter at @HeySlackshow or @AtlasPolara (my personal account where I talk a lot about the games I'm playing!)