The gorgeous tunic is powered by one hell of a game idea
Every Friday, audiovisual club staff members kick off our weekly open thread for discussion of game plans and recent gaming glories, but of course the real action is in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What are you playing this weekend?
I’m a sucker for a good idea in a video game. Give me a good hook—a inventive use of time travela nice approach to the mysterieseven just a novel premise like “Go wash that dirty car, sucker,” and I’m here for as many hours as this idea can last. (And if this hook implies a wrestle with to win over? Oh baby, we’re off to the races then.)
Tunicthe new game from developer Andrew Shouldice, has two square brackets, in this case. One is evident from the moment you boot up the game and see that Shouldice and co-workers have built one of the most beautiful little worlds in recent gaming memory. Viewed from top to bottom and backed by a beautiful score that wouldn’t look out of place on the original Super Nintendo or PlayStation, TunicThe toy box world is beautiful and vivid, especially your playable character, an adorable little fox clearly modeled with fashion choices reminiscent of The Legend of ZeldaThe link.
The second hook is a bit more esoteric, but also potentially much more durable. To see, Tunic comes with very few tutorials or out-of-the-box instructions. Instead, you’ll get your guide on how to control your little fox by reading the game’s manual… which exists as a physical object in the game, torn into various pieces by one mystical calamity or another. Choose one and you’ll be treated to two more beautifully done pages of this NES-style fictional book, which happens to be mostly written in an original “foreign” script, with just enough English to be basically understandable.
It’s a wonderful idea. At the same time, Shouldice handed players a treasure, a puzzle, a nostalgic artifact, and more, all wrapped up in beautiful, time-appropriate art. IT supports superbly the central mysteries of the game, allowing Tunic to reveal the fundamental powers that you, as a player, have possessed since the start of the game—if only you had known they were there. It makes information the most valuable treasure you can find. It shakes neurons with nostalgia, evoking memories of flipping through the manual for Zelda 2 Where StarTropics once upon a time, desperately harvesting them for secrets. It contributes, even more than the world itself, to the feeling of secrecy that pervades Tunicis reality beautifully realized.
In fact, the addition of the manual is paying so well, and with so many varied dividends, that I continued to play Tunic for several hours when I would have stopped otherwise, because of… don’t really like to play Tunic never mind.
Which sounds harsh, I know. I might have a thing against isometric adventure games, especially ones with that kind of slow, methodical combat; I didn’t like last year’s very much The gate of deathneither, which put me at odds with a lot of players and critics.
(I could go into a whole rant here about how this camera structure, which makes it look like it’s looking at the world from an angle, encourages developers to hide 8 million secrets in the parts of the screen that the camera arbitrary cannot see; if only Shouldice and his team had adopted Fezthe camera spinning as easily as they did his fascination with asking players to translate made-up languages.)
Beyond that, however – and the methodical, slightly labored nature of the game’s combat – I just find it hard to care much about the world, however beautiful it may be: say what you like about writing your acting in a language your audience understands, but it certainly helps sustain the attachment once the initial “God, that’s pretty” bloom comes out of the rose.
But I keep playing, because it’s also the power of a good idea: I know this game can impress me, because it has already done so. There were at least two times when finding a new manual page drastically changed my understanding of how Tunic is meant to be played, and it’s one hell of a magic trick to keep succeeding. I’m invested enough to believe Shouldice can surprise me again, and, well, like I said: I’ll put up with a bunch of B- games for that kind of A+ surprise.