‘Tunic’ review: a link to a fox

Not just fancy clothes

Tunic is an action-adventure game that’s very obviously inspired by the old-school The Legend of Zelda games. Your aim is to wander around a world, largely without a guide, and allow your curiosity to carry you from one place to another, and from one objective to the next. It’d be a wonderfully calm experience, were it not for the fact that, despite how adorable the little fox is, the game is more than happy to absolutely destroy them by throwing eight oversized arachnids at you, or flatten you with a giant rat warrior.

You take control of a small fox who awakens on a beach that leads to a surprisingly brutal world filled with beauty, wonders, and evil RGB lighting. One of the best examples of this strange world is the fact that the first shopkeeper you meet is a giant fox skeleton-ghost that appears as you enter a pitch-black cave with little to no warning.

Before you get to anything too horrifying, you just have to deal with slimes, which you can handily take out with a stick. It won’t be too long until that stick starts to feel a little underwhelming, and so, your first adventure is to find a sword and shield. While there’s no single person to guide you on, although a somewhat parental fox spirit you meet seems to fill that role to some degree, you’ll be happy to know that Tunic has a wonderful in-game manual. You’ve just got to find all of the pages first.

Tunic
Tunic. Credit: Andrew Shouldice

You see, you don’t just get the Tunic manual when you start the game; instead, you only find one or two pages at a time, and rather than telling you what the game is about, most pages are written in runes you can’t understand. The main reason you want to find these is that they’ll give you slight hints about the game, like explaining there are two bells to find and ring, and maybe offering a potential list of areas you’ll need to get through to do so. It’s a fascinating way of dropping players hints, and one that I kind of adore thanks to being brainwashed into unhelpful games via Dark Souls et al.

Also, while we’re on the subject of runic writing, the same is true of the things you find out in the wild too. Items you find have no description; you have to intuit their uses or figure it out later. Likewise, things you find in the open world don’t offer much assistance either. It feels akin to playing a big adventure game or RPG and skipping all of the tutorials. You have a vague idea of what everything probably does, but Tunic desperately wants you to allow your curiosity to lead you.

Tunic
Tunic. Credit: Andrew Shouldice

The same is true in world design too. The isometric viewpoint and cute and chunky graphics allow the world to hide a lot of things without you even realising. There were countless moments where I’d find a hidden path, feeling like a damn genius, only to find that it led up and around the back of a house I could have tried to move around at any time. The key thing is to think about what the camera is hiding from you, rather than just what you can see.

I think it takes a truly special game to make you feel both intensely intelligent and also obnoxiously dense at the same time, and Tunic manages it. Thankfully for those who like a good fight to offset the intense exhaustion of puzzle-solving, combat in Tunic pulls no punches, swords, giant shields, or magical automated crossbows.

Tunic
Tunic. Credit: Andrew Shouldice

You’ll be fighting off all manner of enemies in your journey through the world of Tunic, and the combat is easy-to-understand, and very intuitive too, assuming you’re familiar with this style of game. You’ve got your attack, a shield (eventually), different items you can use during combat, a lock-on, and a stamina-based roll. Basically, everything you could ask for from any modern action game, and it all feels pretty great to use.

The result of all of this is a world that pulls you ever forward with the promise of a new sliver of information. Curiosity is going to be what drives you for the most part, with the odd bit of “I really need to get my revenge on that gaggle of enemies,” throw in for good measure.

Tunic is an incredibly modern take on a classic style of game, that infuses all of the nostalgia people past the age of 25, will feel when faced with a fox in a green tunic, and pumps it full of modern-day design philosophies like messing with your line of sight, or being comfortable enough to not let you even understand half of what you’re reading in the early hours. It’s all kinds of wonderful, and while I do think the lack of actual information early on may turn some off of this fox’s journey, Tunic is undoubtedly going to turn a lot of people into grinning fools.

Tunic launches for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S on March 17. We tested it on PC. 

The Verdict

Tunic is so much more than just a game about a cute fox. It’s a wonderfully satisfying adventure game that’s not afraid to kill you and leave you confused as to what just happened. It’s happy for you to be lost, inconvenienced, and befuddled. It’s also one that offers the elation of overcoming a tough challenge regularly throughout, and also, the fox is definitely very cute.

Pros:

  • Beautiful world
  • Incredibly clever level design
  • Simple but fun combat

Cons:

    • Can be a little too hands-off at times, especially in the opening hours
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