The driving force behind Tunic is indie developer Andrew Shouldice, who wears his inspirations on his sleeve. The game pays homage not only to The Legend of Zelda, but also to many other old-school titles from the NES era. It’s certainly not perfect, but it wouldn't be at all surprising to hear about this game again when the game of the year awards roll around at the end of the year.
The art style has always been one of the most attractive features of Tunic since it was first shown off in 2015. The fox is an adorable hero and puts Link to shame. If Link kept his bunny form from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, then maybe Tunic would have some competition.
As well as the hero, the world itself is really well-designed. Everything has a toy-like shine to it. The polygons look simple but alluring at the same. Tunic even has a haunting quality to it which deserves recognition in the art and graphics departments. This action game is not as easy as the art style might sometimes suggest though.
Tunic is not going to hold the hand of players for almost any aspect of this open-world adventure game. Even the game’s language is actively working against players at times. Some of the text can be read, but the majority of it is in a foreign language.
This is a double-edged sword. The visuals of the language are great and will no doubt be attractive to gamers who like a little mystery in their games’ lore. However, the obtuseness of it all can be detrimental to more casual players. After all, what good is a manual if players can’t actually read it? That’s part of the point of Tunic as there are ways to get better at reading, again though, not everyone is going to gel with that design choice.
It may be impossible to read, but the manual is one of the best aspects of Tunic. Players will not begin the game with any tutorials for this booklet. They'll instead find torn-out pages from it scattered throughout their adventure. Eventually one of these torn-out pages will be a map of the world.
It may not be obvious to players at first, but this map does actually track them. It’s an ingenious design choice. The art and visual storytelling in the manual is also top-notch. It’s going to make gamers who grew up in the 80s and 90s more nostalgic over the loss of manuals, which might be the industry’s greatest folly in the HD era.
The top-down nature of the camera is a callback to some of the earlier titles in The Legend of Zelda series. Not many AAA adventure games are made like this nowadays. Sadly though, this nostalgia does come with a price. There is no easy way to move the camera manually while exploring the world.
There is a lock-on button that players can use while in combat. This button can be used outside of battle as well and players can manipulate it to move the camera around a little bit. Since many of the paths in Tunic are seemingly hidden in plain sight, using this lock-on method is necessary for finishing the game. Using it is clunky though. The camera controls could definitely have been handled better, which could come in a future patch. For now though, it is problematic.
There is nothing more freeing in an open-world game than giving players the keys to the proverbial kingdom. Tunic has a narrow path to follow at first, but once the sword is obtained, things begin to branch out pretty quickly. To repeat, it is very much following in the footsteps of the first Zelda game.
Without a concrete story to dive into, gamers are free to play however they like. Narratives can help elevate video games to new levels. However, sometimes it can be more fun for players to sit down and experience something without NPCs constantly nagging them about returning to the main quest line.
Navigating the world without a guiding light is bad enough. The poor camera angles are another obstacle in the way of players. Finally, there are the limited map traversal options, which may not sit well with some players. Perhaps most frustratingly, this tiny fox hero cannot jump off of ledges even if they are barely a drop.
This makes getting around a real pain. Players cannot jump in general. Link wasn’t able to do this for the longest time either, but things have changed a lot since then. Some of the old-school mentalities are appreciated in Tunic, like the limited story which favors gameplay over narrative. However, other things, like the limited traversal, really do hinder the overall experience.
As brutal as Tunic can be, there is a shining light that most players may not even realize is there. Several assist features are hiding in the options menu. Players can turn off damage taken from enemies, and can also prevent their stamina from ever going down.
These two features won’t help navigate the world, but they will at least stop players from dying quite as often. Anytime a AAA title or an indie game includes these features, it is a blessing whether players use them or not. Ultimately, it’s not going to prevent hardcore gamers from enjoying Tunic and should make the game much more accessible to beginners and younger players.