At first glance, Tunic seems like a straightforward adventure game, reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda and the visual stylings of classic computer RPGs. It has a brightly colored art style, with golden sunlight spilling across its tidy isometric angles at a dramatic skew, both cute and somehow eerie. But beyond this exterior, there’s a profound sense that darkness and mystery lurks within.
Across its entire runtime, Tunic is filled with moments that unfurl further layers of secrets, all the while feeling mostly accessible to a less-deeply-invested player. It’s a game that’s designed to evoke feelings of discovery and awe. The fictional language of strange glyphs within the game simulates the experience of a certain generation of children playing imported Japanese games and flipping through manuals full of unfamiliar symbols. This means that the details hold up to intense scrutiny (players have even cracked the in-fiction language), but is not essential to an enjoyable experience.
A Puzzle Box World
Every detail of Tunic’s world seems to be carefully placed, oftentimes taking on new meaning as the game progresses and more secrets are revealed. Developer Andrew Shouldice has explained that even the isometric art style was chosen partly because of its ability to obscure things that would otherwise be in plain sight, like hidden passageways or objects.
Even Tunic’s story is enigmatic and difficult to parse, yielding numerous elaborate interpretations from various players while also conveying a metatextual layer about retry gaming itself. I feel strongly that somewhere at the heart of Tunic is an allegorical story about playing games as a child and feeling a profound sense of adventure — and what it means to share that experience with others. Despite being mythic and abstract in its storytelling, its use of striking imagery and sound design convey a world that feels both grounded and profoundly liminal and dreamlike.
Throughout Tunic, players will collect various usable items (many of which have unclear functions at first) that allow them to circumvent obstacles and progress further. But Tunic also hides an equal amount of already-present secrets across the world that can be found only via specific inputs or interactions. This means that while some progression is locked behind finding key items, other portions are gated by the discovery of information, and nothing more.
Since there are interactive functions of the game world that are present from the beginning (but obscured by a lack of tutorialization), Tunic also includes a clever way to deliver this information through yet another layer of puzzles and mysteries…
The manual is a brilliant little hook that serves as both a metatextual nostalgia trip and a mechanism of delivering carefully obscured information. Manual pages are hidden throughout the world and, once unlocked, feature a combination of English writing alongside Tunic’s own fictional language.
The pages scattered throughout the world create an excellent feedback loop between exploring, finding secrets and shortcuts and items, and discovering more pages that enable further exploration. It also means that the game takes on slightly a different shape for every player, unfolding according to which bits of information they uncover first in addition to which actual items and gadgets they find.
And without giving away too much, the manual pages also serve a particular role in the endgame; the way this plays out is fascinating and poignant, a firm statement that indicates what Tunic truly cares about the most.
Tunic is a love letter to childhood gaming experiences writ large. It’s at times grim and harrowing, at times peaceful and beautiful, and always full of wonder and possibility. Finishing the game left me with a lot of questions that it may not even have any direct answers for, and that’s okay. I’m happy that the sense of mystery doesn’t end when the credits roll.