Review: Tunic Is a Beautiful Mix of Minimalism and Nostalgia

Screenshot: Tunic I’ve been following Tunic for some time now. I first saw it years ago at a local Chicago event, and the Zelda-like game where players control a cute little fox has stuck in my mind ever since. I’ve been personally rooting for this one, and celebrated every time I saw it pop up somewhere, like when its trailer played at the Video Game Awards. Needless to say, I had high hopes for Tunic—and I’m glad to say that it delivered on my expectations, and more. Tunic is an isometric action adventure game with an emphasis on discovery and exploration. In it ,you play as a brave little fox exploring a mysterious land. At first, you only have a stick to defend yourself—but as you explore, more of the world and its secrets will become obvious to you. Its mysteries will be revealed through explorations, but also through collecting game manual pages. Tunic doesn’t even really tell you how to play it—instead, it encourages you to experiment and try things out. In fact, by design, information is obfuscated behind a mysterious language. By doing this, Tunic manages to feel like a nostalgia trip for a game I’ve never played, like I’m a child figuring out a an import game—or I’m too young to be able to read, but can still work the controls. Tunic, quite literally, invokes a feeling in me I haven’t had since I was a small child. Screenshot: Tunic While you’ll do a lot of exploration in Tunic, you’ll also have to do a lot of fighting. Combat in Tunic can be described as somewhat soulslike: you have stamina which determines how much you can dodge, though attacking isn’t affected by it. You have a roll dodge that gives you invulnerability during the roll, and there’s a parry mechanic. While the combat feels a little soulslike, it’s sometimes frustrating, especially when you have to fight multiple enemies. Turning to block enemies, especially faster foes, can be a little tricky even when you use the lock-on system. And while it’s possible to fight without locking on to enemies, it seems like the game punishes you for doing that by not revealing enemy health unless locked on—and when you’re not, there’s a UI element that reminds you to lock on. As far as I can tell, you can’t disable this. There are a few other soulslike mechanics in Tunic: You can heal by drinking health potions which regenerate, along with all of the enemies you defeated, when you rest at a shrine. Tunic also has some surprisingly difficult combat. However, there are accessibility settings that can make the combat trivial, so if you want to enjoy the cute fox game, don’t get scared off by the potential for hard combat. But Tunic's best soulslike feature is the minimalistic way it tells its story, and how it urges you to explore its world. Screenshot: Tunic Exploration is probably the main part of the gameplay in Tunic, and it’s wonderful. A beautiful game, Tunic uses lighting to enhance its minimalist graphics—and this makes it a pleasure to just walk around and take in Tunic’s world. Tunic has secrets in almost every corner, and diligent exploration will yield fruit. However, sometimes diligent exploration is necessary just to progress. I found myself stuck for a long time with lots of back tracking to find a way forward—only to discover that the way forward was hidden as well as a secret, and to progress I had to get behind a specific rock. In some games I’d register that as bad game design at worst, and frustrating at best, but Tunic seems deliberately designed to force you to find “secrets” just to progress. Tunic is a special game that manages to invoke nostalgia from my childhood. Revealing gameplay and lore information through finding manual pages is genius, and reminds me of flipping through game manuals as a child. While Tunic does have some difficult combat, it can be made easy through accessibility options. However, Tunic requires some patience and love for exploration—but with its beautiful world, exploration comes naturally. Tunic is available today on Steam and for Xbox.         A Steam key was provided to us for this review.    
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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.