Reviewed on Xbox Series X through Game pass
Originally announced way back in 2017 TUNIC is finally out on Xbox and PC and it shadow dropped into Game Pass for both as well. How does this Zelda meets Dark Souls mishmash of cuteness fair? It’s incredible, at first. Roughly halfway through my playtime though a few mechanics were introduced that soured me greatly on the title. Featuring exquisite world-building and intriguing lore, it may be enough for you to plod through the at times abysmal combat. Though it became a bit of a chore for me by the end I think there still is enough here to make this one worth checking out, allow me to explain.
Poison Absolutely Sucks
TUNIC is a beautiful game and features some of the most inventive level designs I have seen in a game. The music is wonderful, and early on the combat is quite enjoyable. Things start out rather basic, you find a stick and can hit enemies with it after assigning it to a face button. A is your trusty dodge and slowly but surely you power up your furry fighter into a furious fox full of fantastical fortitude. The name of the game is exploration, you will need to search every nook and cranny to figure out what is going on, how things work, and where to go. Aiding you in this task is perhaps the game’s best and most important feature, the manual.
A press of the view button brings up a beautiful and 100% necessary to read-through game guide. Featuring hand-drawn art and a killer style, this book is full of vital information about the game that you can’t learn any other way. You slowly find pieces of the manual littered throughout the game world as floating white icons. It seems key to find all of them based on the lore I could barely understand as this game features a lot of unintelligible text (which I’m sure linguists have or will crack very soon). This is an obtuse game but differently than Dark Souls. With a bit of patience, you can figure out what your goals are and where to go rather easily. One thing to mention though is you want to find the shield as quickly as possible because the game is extremely difficult without it. Also make sure to read the manual as it teaches you how you upgrade your furry fighter, which I hadn’t done for the first EIGHT hours of my playthrough which made things ultra-hard mode (for no reason).
My main issue came as I progressed through the game and was met with the poison mechanic. This lovely thing reduces your entire health bar if you are too close to a corrupted energy source or hit by something that glows a familiar and horrific pink. The game’s health system works much like Dark Souls where you can use flasks (that you gain more and more of as you play) to restore HP. The poison system however lowers your entire bar, and you cannot gain back your HP until you visit the (again Souls-like) shrine and reset everything. It permeates throughout the entirety of the 2nd half of the game and it made everything a complete slog. Having respawning enemies in a game like this was just a nuisance and not enjoyable as well, mainly because I did not enjoy the combat in the end.
Basic and Unfair Combat
The balance in TUNIC is off. It’s not that things are overly hard, it’s more that the game bites off more than its controls can chew when it comes to enemy attacks. You must be extremely deliberate, but you are limited by an unforgiving stamina system. Far too often the game’s lock-on system was more of a hindrance than a benefit as well. Once you’ve found your shield right trigger is your guard on hold and parry on press. Nothing in this game is snappy control-wise though and the parry is a full second load up and swing. Throwing bombs feels sloppy and overly animated, and the basics of swinging your sword never changed the entire playthrough for me. Overall it’s a mediocre combat system that I hoped would grow to meet the ever more challenging enemies, but it failed to do so. My impressions of the combat after 5 or 6 hours would be “passable” but after my 14-hour playthrough, it’s down to outright bad.
A game that came out last year and played similarly is Death’s Door, what that game had though was a proper balance so while it was difficult I never felt cheated. Far too often with certain mobs, both my and their hitboxes felt off or attacks were too magnetized so no block or dodge could avoid taking damage. It is unfortunate as the lore and world-building in TUNIC is fantastic. The whole game was let down for me by how often I felt I was only pushing ahead through repetitive enemy encounters because of the story. I didn’t like playing the meat of the game. One thing that can alleviate this issue for those willing to use it are the accessibility features. You can both make yourself invincible and/or have unlimited stamina. For many playing the game, I’d say feel free to use these if you start feeling frustrated as I did with the lack of checkpoints necessitating repeating the same enemy encounters multiple times.
The Great Stuff
The world here is one of the better I’ve played through. Numerous hidden paths, oodles of secrets, and intriguing lore abounds. It is the main reason I kept pushing through the more frustrating parts and I can see (and have already seen) communities build up around learning the secrets of TUNIC. Even after defeating the end boss, there were multiple areas I had never traveled to, and the idea of a new game plus where I try to find every secret I can (using invincibility if necessary to keep the anger levels down) is something I could easily find myself doing in the future. As the title is available day one on Game Pass I hope that people know what they’re in for here. It’s never easy, and the story is never clear. The use of a native in-game text mixed with one of the many localized languages is both interesting and a bit frustrating.
Graphically things are stunning with beautiful models, incredible lighting, and solid animations. The diversity on both enemy types and level biomes is solid as well. The music matches it step for step with the initial starting area having a great soundtrack that keeps up throughout your entire playthrough. I ran into a few bugs with getting stuck in the environment, dodges worked me out of most but a couple required me to exit the title and come back in.
TUNIC is both an incredible and incredibly frustrating title. The combat lets down what otherwise is a masterpiece. If you can look past it or feel fine using the accessibility options it is worth checking out. Gorgeous graphics, incredible music, and intriguing lore just may be enough to carry you through, and being available day one on Game Pass on PC and console certainly doesn’t hurt either.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC|
|Release Date||March 16th, 2022|
|Rated||E for Everyone|