One of my highlights every E3 since 2017 involved a game about a little fox wearing a green tunic and wielding a sword. Finally, five years later, Tunic, created by Andrew Shouldice and produced by Finji, is almost here. Andrew Shouldice, a solo developer who received refinement help from Finji, has proved two things: the wait was absolutely worth it, and solo developers are some of the most inspired developers in this industry.
In Tunic, you play as a nameless fox who wakes up mysteriously on an island. This is when the grandeur of Tunic begins, right when you pick up a page. A page from something many who played games up until recently may remember—a page from a game manual. And with the guidance of what to do from this two-sided page, you stumble upon a golden door containing a trapped older fox.—someone who is asking for your help. And so begins our little fox’s adventure to save someone in distress.
Since I started my review, one of the most fun things to learn was how community-oriented Tunic is meant to be. As part of the review process, every person who got a review code (myself included) was invited to join a discord that was strictly meant to be a place to figure out this game together. I couldn’t imagine playing this game without it. And joining that server and using a game manual as the key progress tracker reminded me of one big thing. Asking for help and looking up what to do is not only okay, it should be encouraged.
This message is what has made my experience with Tunic even more special. Like I mentioned above, your biggest guide through the game isn’t a quest log but a torn apart game manual. As you progress, you’ll find pages that slowly reveal this world you’re exploring. A single page could reveal more about the story, maps of the different areas, or specific items or paths. While most of the manual (and game) uses a novel language, it is still full of context clues.
For example, on one of the map pages, the Under the Well area has pictures of the different enemies you’ll face. Additionally, it has a picture of the cute fox blocking lasers with its shield. Better yet, it’s next to a picture of a turret. Something as simple as that teaches you that to avoid turret lasers, block them with your shield. This is the simplest example I could give because going any more in-depth than that could accidentally spoil something big.
What surprised me the most about Tunic was how open everything is. It’s not all about puzzles or using a map to guide yourself. It’s about knowledge. Like how the game starts with picking up that page of the game manual, Tunic‘s all about learning about this world. But no matter what you learn from any source, the results are the same: you’re learning about what you’re already capable of. Besides weapons and spells, nearly every feature is available from the start. You just don’t know it yet.
I’d love to give examples of what I mean, but here’s the thing. They’d all ruin your experience just knowing about them early. And this is what I loved most about this game. The progression of your stats and how this game works is so natural. This broadening of mechanics and your understanding of Tunic‘s world comes from many sources. For instance, the game manual pages provide invaluable resources like a map and mechanics. They also hint at certain puzzles that you’d never expect to be puzzles.
Similar to its not-so-subtle inspiration, The Legend of Zelda, Tunic is riddled with puzzles that feel like a deeper side to the game. The initial fun comes from finding how to progress, but the real fun comes from finding just about every puzzle and secret littered throughout this world. There are so many “a-ha” moments; every time I boot up Tunic, I find something new. I also don’t normally use a notebook to keep track of goings-on in games. Tunic changed that (seriously, it’s all jibberish but somehow makes sense).
I’ve covered a lot about why I loved Tunic so much, but not too much about the minute-to-minute gameplay. Again, similar to its not-so-subtle inspiration, the game plays with you controlling the fox, hacking and slashing bushes, pots, and enemies. At any time, you can equip up to three usable items in addition to your shield. Surprisingly, while it plays like The Legend of Zelda, it is almost treated like a souls-like. Resting at vigils brings enemies back to life while also restoring your health, health potions, and mana. And if you die, you leave a little echo of the fox behind.
From my experience, though, it’s not nearly as difficult as a souls-like. It just has some of those elements in it. At the cost of only 20 gems a death, death isn’t very punishing. Plus, if you feel challenged by the combat, invincibility is an option in the menus. Turning it on does not affect the game overall; it just gives you a less stressful experience. And when you get past the part that was causing you trouble? Go ahead and turn it off. Seamless accessibility is a lovely plus because this game can get overwhelming and challenging at a moment’s notice.
Now, I only had one real negative with this game, and it’s with what I loved most too. While a really great gameplay mechanic for 90% of the game, the manual does lose some points because of its vagueness. I mentioned before how it loves to give context clues or subtly point out things to keep an eye out for. What it fails at is connecting certain dots. I was stumped on how to use one specific gameplay mechanic. It’s presented in one way but can be used in many others. That “other” was key for progressing forward.
I know what was just described is very vague. It’s been hard to write this review because of how much there is to learn, and to learn anything out of order ruins Tunic’s fantastic sense of natural progression. This isn’t the only time that either the language barrier or what is shown on the page just isn’t clear enough. So again, just don’t be afraid to ask for help or look up something if you feel stumped.
Tunic was definitely worth the wait. I honestly can’t remember when a game has gripped me the way Tunic has. For the past two weeks, I haven’t stopped looking into certain puzzles, finding new secrets, and thinking about what I could’ve missed. It’s just amazing that the small team behind Tunic has created a game with this much depth. While it borrows many elements from very well-known games, it makes each of them its own. Combat synergy, secrets galore, and a brief but gripping story make Tunic a must-play for everyone. Just don’t be afraid to look up and ask for help whenever you find yourself lost.
Tunic is available on March 16th, 2022 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC as well as on Game Pass.
- Rating - 9/109/10
Tunic was definitely worth the wait. I honestly can’t remember when a game has gripped me the way Tunic has. For the past two weeks, I haven’t stopped looking into certain puzzles, finding new secrets, and thinking about what I could’ve missed. It’s just amazing that the small team behind Tunic has created a game with this much depth.