Single developer games recently have been no less than impressive, and with Tunic, a new Xbox exclusive, its Zelda-style gameplay and Souls-like combat make for a difficult but satisfying experience.
Where Am I?
Once the game begins, our hero, an adorable cartoon fox, wakes up on a beach and gets straight into the action by smacking foes with a stick and dodge-rolling all over the place. Tunic has no opening cutscene explaining the story, so the player must explore and discover the world and its secrets. As I got used to the controls, I began to take in the colourful surroundings, enriched with a variety of gorgeous aesthetics and an abundance of dangerous adversaries. Tunic at first glance seems friendly to even the most comfortable gamers, but underneath this coat of paint, it’s a surprisingly difficult indie title that will challenge anybody who attempts to play it.
Blah, Blah, Blah
Tunic has its own written language portrayed as hieroglyphic-like symbols that are illegible to the player. Players must use an item to see its effects due to being unable to read the in-game nonsense that presents itself under each new discovery. Visual appearances of certain items, like swords, can obviously be interpreted as weapons. However, other items, like a miniature version of the protagonist, may be unclear. Is it a doll? A decoy? Use it and find out.
Now, the Fox Hunts You
The world of Tunic contains a wide variety of enemies to fight, including pink, bouncy creatures who backflip kick you if you get too close. Crocodiles stalk the swamps, skeletons haunt caves, and pig-like warriors guard hidden treasures that will help the player progress through the story. Combat in the early game is fairly simple, swing a sword left and right before dodging to avoid getting hit yourself. There are also throwable items that can cause splash damage and defeat multiple enemies at once, great for crowd control in certain areas where enemies are in great numbers.
Tunic has no real tutorial, but players can find pages of a book that helps to visually describe certain aspects of gameplay. For instance, one area explains how the player can sprint in-game, using imagery and pictures to show how it would look when performed, helping to guide the player in more ways than one. Players can also find secret pathways throughout the world that hide chests containing important items, like flask pieces that, when put together, create a new health flask that is refilled at every checkpoint. Exploring each nook and cranny feels really rewarding and makes for a much smoother gameplay experience.
The Symbols, Mason, What Do They Mean?
Tunic refuses to hold the player’s hand in such a way that an irresponsible parent would let their infant cross the road by themselves. Having a unique language in Tunic is great, but with very little transcription, it can be difficult sometimes to understand how next to proceed. For instance, as mentioned previously, item descriptions are presented as symbols that are unintelligible to the player. Some item uses are difficult to make out, meaning players may end up using an item first to see what it does, possibly wasting a valuable throwable or potion in the process. The collected pages found scattered in Tunic‘s world are fine in practice, but the symbol-like language is present here too, besides the few odd pages. A book like this could’ve been fully transcribed for the player, like an in-game guidebook full of hints and tips to help the player know what to do next.
A Little Bit of DIY
What’s most impressive is that Tunic has been developed by one single person: Andrew Shouldice. Since its E3 announcement in 2018, Tunic has had lots of time in the oven and is a strong addition to an already outstanding collection of indie titles for the Xbox console. Andrew proves his passion for game development by creating a world full of gorgeous colour, vivid imagination and carefully crafted set pieces, all by his lonesome. A feat like this is impressive for whole teams, let alone a single individual.
Tunic is one of those titles that proves that taking the time and effort to create a video game will surely solidify a high-quality experience. Added to Xbox Game Pass, Tunic is highly accessible to a wide range of players, and I would recommend a playthrough to anybody with a subscription.
Developer: Andrew Shouldice
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft Windows, macOS
Release Date: 16th March 2022