“Tunic’s” short showcase at Microsoft’s E3 press conference left something to be desired, it looked like an experience that was traveling on a path already cleared by so many that came before it. But after sitting down with the game and it’s creator, Andrew Shouldice, it’s clear that this is something deeper than your typical Zelda-inspired adventure.
“Tunic is about exploring, fighting, and most importantly finding secrets,” Shouldice tells Variety. “The story and narrative are hidden in the corners of the world for people to poke around and find as they play.”
Originally announced as “The Secret Legend” back in 2015 and renamed at last years PC Gaming Show, ‘Tunic’ is a Zelda-style adventure where you play as a fox exploring a broken down world. Shouldice describes the game as a combination of his own inspirations, with mechanical depth similar to the “Dark Souls” series and an overall adventure that draws from the original “Legend of Zelda.”
“Tunic’s an obvious synthesis of a lot of different things, it’s a love letter with a long list of BCC’s,” Shouldice said. “It’s a modern take on a few different things, my goal when starting out wasn’t necessarily to scratch an itch, I want this to be a modern take on these things. It’s not going to be completely new but it’s going to feel different.”
That difference is found in the games secrets, not only things hidden in the bushes and cracks of each area, but mysteries that are concealed naturally by the game world. Every sign, direction, and piece of text that you find is written in an unknown language that you can’t read. It’s not necessarily a challenge that needs to be overcome, its something that, as Shouldice puts it, makes the game easier. “There is no expectation for the player to actually know what these glyphs mean,” he said. “It’s all part of feeling small in a place that you don’t belong.”
That feeling was only compounded by “Tunic’s” beautifully puzzling world, it’s gorgeous, somewhat clay-like visuals looked intentionally rough to display how worn the land had become and the range of settings gave away bigger hints at what the furtive narrative might include.
The demo we played through was a simple one, beginning with our protagonist waking up on a beach and venturing into the nearby forest. Like similar adventures, we were immediately greeted with a typical assortment of weak enemies that were easily disposed of with a stick. The combat is complex, starting out with your typical slash attack, with either the stick or sword in the demo, that can be mapped to any of the face buttons. After a few minutes we were slashing, dodge rolling, and blocking a number of attacks from spiders that tried to bait our attacks and slimes that instantly counterattacked whenever we landed a hit.
It was only a taste of the extensive combat, after walking us through the short demo that was available on the Xbox Showcase floor, Shouldice showed us more content that was still in development. We looked at more weapons like a lasso that could rope ranged enemies in and he introduced us to additional enemies, like a weird upright-standing animal he called the ‘Woodcutter,’ and a giant robot-like spider creature. Things that seemed far past the scale of a game like ‘Tunic.’
Shouldice emphasized that there were ‘bigger and better’ things to come later in the adventure, things that only make the mystery that ‘Tunic’ presents now far more puzzling. “You’re not going to be exploring these peculiarly put together dungeons with eyes above the door that are clearly meant for the bow in arrow you found in the same room,” he said. “Things will make more sense in the context of a ruined world, but you could still explore things like a wizards library high above the clouds.”
The extended demo showed our adorable fox bumping into a robotic coffee table that followed him around the room, something that was unexpected considering the aesthetic that was showcased up until that point. It left more questions than answers, but we were able to find out that the adventure revolves around three artifacts that, when brought together, do something special to the world. Outside that, and the cryptic enemy seen at the end of the games new trailer, we don’t know much.
Shouldice, alongside some support staff that he’s hired for music, sound design, and other needs, has been working on this project solo for more than three years and his efforts bear fascinating promises. Usually when a game of this magnitude tries to combine a deep combat system, a variety of enemy types, and a secret filled world– something falls short. Even though ‘Tunic’ appears to duck that development hurdle, we won’t know for sure for quite some time. The project isn’t even within a year of release, even though the team is aiming for late 2019, it could easily fall into 2020.
Hopefully we can rest easy knowing that Shouldice has more time to shape ‘Tunic’s’ gorgeous combination of combat and secrecy. “Dark Souls and Zelda are certainly mechanical and design influences,” Shouldice said. “But I want this to have a different atmosphere, it’s sun drenched and fun to explore but with the constant feeling of ‘I’m not sure what’s next.’”