Indie Spotlight – Tunic

Jeremy Peeples6 minute read

Over the past decade, we have seen many top-down Legend of Zelda-like games on the market. Some have gone for more of an homage, like Blossom Tales, while games like Ittle Dew have focused more on deconstructing the genre with humor. 3D Dot Game Heroes was probably the first big Zelda-like out there to be so up front with its influences and the first one that blended the overhead action of several Zelda entries with a 3D environment thanks to its use of voxels. Tunic aims to deliver a similar experience to an overhead Zelda game, but with more of an emphasis on action and accessibility instead of focusing on a puzzle-combat mix that can act as a barrier to game progress.

Tunic acts as a fantastic gateway game to those who have wanted to enjoy a full-fledged Zelda experience but struggled with the puzzle-solving aspect of them. The usage of an overhead viewpoint with a slight tilt may seem to make things a little tougher, but it winds up making combat better since it’s treated more like a twin-stick shooter rather than something designed to feel like something out of the SNES era like A Link Between Worlds was on the 3DS. With the shift to a more modern-feeling design, the action is snappier and feels more organic and less stilted when compared to mainline Zelda games that are restricted to a certain gameplay feel.

Tunic makes full use of its environment and offers eight-way combat and defensive strategies to deliver a far more engaging combat experience than similar games while taking advantage of many modern game design mechanics. The phrase “Souls-like” gets thrown around a lot, but with its blend of attacking, dodging, and trial-and-error combat, it does feel fitting with Tunic. Normally, that would be a bit troublesome, especially for an overhead game with fewer attack methods than a Souls game would have. However, accessibility is baked into the core game and winds up delivering a far more user-friendly experience than any other Souls-esque game on the market.

One common criticism of that series and anything that From Software puts out is that it “has” to be difficult because that’s part of the core design. The problem is that in doing so, it winds up excluding an entire player base who may have fine-motor impairments or deal with other disabilities that hamper gameplay sessions and prevent being able to easily see or hear cues that an enemy attack is coming. Tunic’s team has made sure to create an experience that can largely be enjoyed by anyone, with a few caveats regarding areas that can be improved upon.

The core difficulty of a Souls-like game coming from attack and defensive timing has been addressed by the inclusion of a no fail mode that ensures the player has unlimited health, while players can fine tune it even more to take stamina loss for dodges out of the equation. The invincibility mode is nice especially for boss battles, and everything can be toggled on or off mid-game. Screen shake and rumble are adjustable and it’s impressive to see how much care was taken to make the entire experience more playable.

There is room for improvement though, and some of it is in the core design of the in-game world. It’s a very open environment but with gameplay segmented to a single screen at a time. Everything interconnects, but it’s easy to lose track of where things are in relation to one another due to the lack of a good in-game map system. Players essentially have to go off of landmarks to figure out where they were, and there isn’t an arrow system to show players where to go.

Final Fantasy VII’s usage of bold red arrows to show interactive areas was something that came to mind while playing Tunic, and that alone would help, as the game’s overhead viewpoint can make it difficult to see what’s interactable in the area. The player can adjust the in-game viewing angle very slightly with a trigger press, and although it’s not much, it can make it easier to see where the player is in relation to enemies and enemy attacks. More work can be done to make the overall world easier to navigate and hopefully that can be done fairly quickly.

Another area that could be improved upon is having a turbo option built into the attacks. Holding a button down makes for a much more accessible input experience than constantly pressing it, even when spacing out those button presses to properly time attacks. We have seen turbo as a default option in more action-heavy titles like Mighty Goose, and it would be a welcome addition here as well. PC players can still use turbo for any version of the game using an 8bitdo or other turbo-enabled pad, while Game Pass users will be limited to using that kind of pad for either the streaming version or PC Game Pass version without Xbox One or Series turbo support. Still, it is nice to have PC Game Pass support it, and that makes the game a bit easier to use especially during busy boss battles.

Visually, Tunic has a sharp design with a flat-shaded world across the board. The characters and environment all blend together nicely, and there aren’t any design elements that seem out of place. The soft focus for parts of the environment help emphasize the important parts of the playing area while still showing off how large the world outside of the playing area is. Tunic’s use of a single art style throughout the adventure helps a lot, but it would be nice to have a solid outline around the characters to help tell where enemies are in relation to the player during battle. 

Text size is fairly large throughout the entire adventure, which makes the menus easier to navigate. The overall menu layout itself is rock-solid with a lot of elements being labeled. There is room for improvement when it comes to being able to adjust text size, as there isn’t an option to do it currently, and there is no UI scaling. Colorblind options would be nice as well given how the game relies on Earth tones for a lot of its color scheme.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing players will be able to make it through the game’s story as easily as anyone, since none of the game consists of voiced dialogue. The soundtrack is melodic and relaxing, and it would be nice to have that articulated on-screen for those who cannot hear it. The same goes for having an auditory cue for which kind of weapon type is being used by and against the player. It helps to plan a strategy out to hear what’s coming and lacking that ability will make combat a bit tougher without no fail mode on. Tunic would be aided by adding in an on-screen indicator for sound effects as well as a description of the music used to set the stage since boss battles do see a jump up in intensity.

Tunic is a surprisingly accessible game that blends both Zelda-like and Souls-like mechanics. It has room for improvement when it comes to taking the burden off the player for rapid button presses, but that can be amended by playing on PC with more controller options than on Xbox consoles. The ability to turn invincibility on and turn off stamina drain is huge and opens the game up to far more players, and is something that all Souls and Zelda-likes need to look at adopting. Visually, Tunic badly needs an in-game map system as well as clear markers on-screen for where the player should go and where they can go. Colorblind options would be nice alongside text and UI scaling, but the text and UI are fairly easy to see as they are. On the audio side of things, Tunic should included the option to have a description for music since it plays such a key role in setting the stage for boss battles and it would be nice to have descriptions for various weapon types being used as well.

This article has been transferred from DAGERSystem (now AbilityPoints). Scores, formatting, and writing style may differ from original CIPT content.

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