Tunic Preview – A cute foxy Zelda-like with a dark soul

The cute fox game. That’s probably what everyone who’s seen the trailers for Tunic know it as. First revealed in its current incarnation back at E3 2018, it was immediately clear to see the inspirations from The Legend of Zelda mixed with exceedingly cute visuals. Actually playing the game, however, is full of surprises.

Available now as a time-limited demo on Xbox, one of the first things that will strike you is just how abstract the game is – OK, probably the third thing right after how gorgeous the art style is and how much it looks like classic Zelda but isometric. Waking up on the beach and wandering up the stairs and chunky polygonal pathways, the first thing you interact with pops up a mysterious script that you have no way to interpret. ‘No’ and ‘OK’ are your two options…

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Tap OK and you’re greeted by one of my favourite touches of the demo’s short run time: retro-styled manual pages. The first page is a quick thank you message for playing (in English), with the basic controls laid out if you flip over this digital page, but later on, when coming to the game’s first dungeon, you can find a page that reveals the dungeon map. It’s just a nice quirk.

Not so nice are the various enemies you find. Blobs that will bounce toward you, spiky ethereal creatures that fire darts your way, bulbous Dr. Robonik-looking enemies with swords that will swing and stab toward you. To start with you’re incredibly poorly equipped, finding a little stick to whack things with.

And here’s where we discover that really this isn’t just a cute Zelda-like. No… it’s also a Soulslike. Combat is stamina-based, from the amount that you can swing your weapon, to your dodge roll, and eventually the amount of damage you can absorb with your shield before it’s knocked away. You have to be proactive, locking onto enemies and timing your attacks based on what your enemy is doing.

If you die, all your accrued cash is dropped right where you fell, and you wake back up at the most recent altar that you visited. Finding an altar and using it refills your health and health vials (you can find two in this demo), but also respawns all of the enemies in the world. Thankfully, the other side of the Soulslike coin is also here, with various elements in the world that you can interact with, opening up permanent new paths and shortcuts.

The Tunic demo is just a snippet of what this game has to offer. There’s countless yellow and black striped barricades dotted around the game world, preventing you from exploring too far off the beaten path. Still there’s a few secrets to sample if you know where to look, such as a fearsome skeletal monstrosity right near the start of the game, that comes with a wide attack arc, and the ability to throw and create skull bats to attack you. It’s a brutal challenge in the small, confined space that you can encounter it.

It’s really the genre choices that will define whether or not Tunic is for you. If you come into it expecting a game with the difficulty curve and gameplay of The Legend of Zelda, you’ll be in for a rude awakening as a fox savages your ankle. Want to savour the gorgeous graphics and unique charms of the abstracted creation, while pitting yourself against the Soulslike challenge? Well, you should put Tunic high up on your watch list.

Tunic’s demo is available now through the Xbox Summer Games Fest. You only have a limited time, though, with the event and all the demos within expiring on 21st June. Hurry up!

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