Manuals used to be a much more important feature of gaming. Back when games came on tape and took what seemed like a decade to load the main source of entertainment while you waited was the manual.
Sometimes all you got was black and white text on the inside of a paper flap detailing the rudimentary controls and a two sentence description of the plot. On the other end of the scale, games like Civilization had chunky book like manuals filled with the most intricate of details, making up for the lack of the internet to provide everything you might want to know.
You might even have had the experience of importing games from Japan and tried to decipher the manual included with your game with bright illustrations accompanied by incomprehensible text. This is where Tunic takes its inspiration from.
From the outset Tunic appears to be very much in the mold of Zelda. Your fox wears a Link adjacent tunic, gets a sword and shield, wanders a verdant land whacking monsters and exploring dungeons. Along the way you’ll start to find pages of the manual for the game. These are illustrated wonderfully in a way that is so strongly reminiscent of the 16-bit era. Parts of the text are legible and the rest is in Tunic’s own language, one which features within the game’s signs and items.
You can gather a vague idea of what you’re doing from the manual pages and the world around you. You’ll gain items and have no real idea what to do with them except by trying to use them or consulting the manual if you’re lucky enough to have picked up the correct page.
So far, so standard. A Zelda game with impenetrable signposting isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea. But Tunic is so much more than it first appears.
The two games Tunic reminds me of are Fez and The Witness. Both of those games contain secrets which are very much hidden in plain sight and reward players with that wonderful feeling of revelation when you see what was staring you in the face all along. Tunic has this and more.
I don’t want to describe too much of what can be found in the game because the joy of discovery is palpable. But there were moments playing Tunic which were my favourite moments in gaming this year and possibly up there with all time greatest highlights. Even just something as simple as looking at manual pages I’d been using for hours with new eyes meant I found new secrets and found myself overwhelmed by the audacity of the developers and the secrets they piled into this game.
I will say I was not a fan of the combat in the game though. It has a feel of Dark Souls like combat, dodge and parry and such, reclaim your currency if you die and so on. But I found the difficulty in the combat was getting in the way of my enjoyment of the game and thankfully there are accessibility options to make the combat easier or even trivial. I absolutely recommend changing these settings if you find yourself struggling with progression because the game as a whole is something I’d encourage everyone to see and I’d hate to think of anyone missing out because they couldn’t master the fighting in Tunic.
When you’ve played the game and seen the secrets and the different endings and you think you know all the layers contained in Tunic, when you’ve done that I would like to point you towards this Twitter thread https://twitter.com/regameyk/status/1583200241222053889?s=20&t=opvUP_5qWOpdMvw8a0i67g where there are many, many spoilers but also an indepth look at how even the audio has been hiding secrets right in front of you.
Frustrating combat aside, Tunic is a game I would like everyone to play, if only so I have more people to talk about certain things without spoilers. It can appear to be a cutesy Zelda clone but it contains remarkable depths just below the surface. Now I just need to cross my fingers for a physical edition to be released with a complete replica manual for me to leaf through.