Normally games, especially those backed by large publishers, tend to announce pretty close to their release date. This helps keep the excitement around a project going since it’s rare for anything to be able to stay on people’s radar for an extended amount of time with no new developments. Every once in awhile though, something special comes along that people continue to get excited about year after year. TUNIC is one of these special outliers, and for good reason. Originally announced back in 2018 and shown at a couple of major conventions, it’s one that keeps popping up with increased excitement each time. I got my hands on the demo this weekend, and finally understand first-hand what gives this game its staying power.
TUNIC, if you’ve missed the intermittent hype, “evokes feelings of classic action-adventure games”, as described by their press kit. What this translates to is a love letter to older Zelda games, where you play as a cute little fox in a strange and beautifully serene world. Equipped with your sword and shield, you’ll fight your way through enemies, solve puzzles to complete dungeons, and explore this new world around you. This description however does very little to capture the pieces of the game that I felt were the most special. While it might be light on story, it makes up for it through engaging gameplay and an intriguing world that asks you to stay awhile and look around.
Most obvious when you start the game is the incredible and alluring atmosphere. The sound design is beautiful and takes great care to immerse you in your surroundings, whether you’re exploring an abandoned temple or taking on a staggeringly large boss. The soft lighting gently illuminates your path, adding to the feelings of exploration and mystery. Even the signage and user interfaces all contribute to this atmosphere, as everything is in a glyphic language you can’t read. In interviews, the game’s creator has indicated that your character might not belong in this world, which is clearly reflected in this mechanic. Needing to rely on context clues, intuition, and plain old trial and error cleverly reinforces the game’s themes and turns curiosity into progression.
The game’s mechanics also take a departure from standard Zelda-inspired fare. While you’ll have your trusty sword to attack and shield to defend, you also have a more modern dodge roll to evade oncoming attacks, a stamina bar that you’ll need to be mindful of, and a few enemies that hit like trucks. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it entirely souls-like, I will say you’ll need to be careful with resources and plan attacks carefully - they can’t be canceled once they start, so button mashing is almost guaranteed to get you into trouble. I found most groups of enemies to be a moderate challenge, meaning that combat was engaging but not so difficult that I got frustrated. Exploration rewarded me with better gear and recovery items, making it fun for both its own sake and for keeping my little fox friend alive.
The development team (well, developer - it’s just one guy) has been pretty upfront in saying this demo is fairly old and might not fully represent the current state of the game. All I know is the foundational elements of what I saw were lovely, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into this beautiful and strange little world. TUNIC doesn’t have a release date yet, though my uninformed hunch is that publisher Finji has been promoting it more lately in preparation for some kind of upcoming announcement. Instead of relying on my speculation though, you can wishlist it on steam to stay tuned!