Tunic

You should play Tunic. Let me lead off with that: it is a beautiful game, rich in texture and metis, filled with joy and detail and surprises that rank up there with [[Celeste]] and [[Breath of the Wild]] in terms of moments that bring me back to the child-like wonder of exploring a new and dangerous world.

If I were to describe what Tunic is, I would probably first try to phrase it as a cocktail:

  1. The aesthetic and visual attention of [[Monument Valley]],
  2. The world & exploration of, say, [[Link to the Past]],
  3. The puzzles & metagaming of [[Fez]].

All of those reference points work, but I don't think they quite add up to the sheer gestalt that makes Tunic work. MY second description would be a bit pithier:

Playing Tunic is like playing a copy of an old Zelda game from an alternate universe.

The core conceit of the game's progression — the instruction manual that you need to proceed being scattered around the game workd — is so obvious of a love letter to SNES-era gaming I can't help but admire it. There are a couple Metroidvania-esque unlocks in the game, but the majority of the things you "unlock" are understanding — you will go fifteen of the game's twenty hours without knowing what a certain button does even though it's available to you from the starting screen, for instance. You in many ways master Tunic by literally (because it has its own invented language!) and figuratively learning the game's language.

I had one big problem with this game: its combat. It does not feel particularly good. It's not punishing-but-rewarding (like, say, [[Hades]] or [[Celeste]]) nor punishing-but-thats-the-point. It's punishing but in unintentional and slightly dream-like ways: I felt like the combat was an annoying obstacle whose physics never quite made sense to me.

This is all blessedly ameliorated by the presence of difficulty modifiers. There's a "make combat easier" button that I toggled on at around halfway through the game without a second thought — it didn't trivialize everything, but it made the harder gauntlets of the game a little more bearable. (Every game should have one of these, and I felt the same way about the inclusion of it in [[CrossCode]] — sure, there's a tiny bit of shame, but at this point I'm less interested in video games as Herculean challenges.) But the gulf between the exploration and the combat modes of Tunic felt like the closest objective mark I could make against it: the very best games are the ones where every single part of the package is part of the same strong design, and I don't quite think Tunic hit that mark.

Still: as I write this, it's my favorite game of the year and it was an absolute blast to play through. You should play it, too — with two caveats:

  1. Read nothing about the game (it's more fun that way, for reasons that will quickly become clear)
  2. Don't be afraid to turn down the difficulty
10/22/2022
Want to read more?
Found an issue on this page? Let me know.
© 2022 Justin Duke • I hope you're wearing your favorite sweater.