Tunic is a gorgeous Zelda-like game where you play as a cute little fox with a cute little sword, and it currently has a free demo on Xbox.
Tunic, published by Finji, is a gorgeous little indie currently being made by solo dev Andrew Shouldice. Earlier this week, during the excellent Xbox and Bethesda showcase, a demo for the game was made available on Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S alongside 39 other titles, all of which are currently available for free on the Microsoft Store. Some of these are great – for example, I already wrote about how the Sable demo is game of the year until Sable comes out. While I’m not quite as enamored with Tunic as I am with Sable – ooof, Sable! – I already love basically everything about it. It’s one of the most sincere and inspired games I’ve played all year, which is why I am taking the time to write about it and hopefully convince you to give it a go, too.
Imagine Zelda, okay, except instead of being a blonde-banged, green-garbed himbo with bombs, boomerangs, and a bitterness for Boboklins, you’re a cutesy little fox with a cutesy little sword and shield. Also a stick, which isn’t very useful but hey – at least it doesn’t break after you swing it five times. Tunic doesn’t have weapon durability. Thank god.
When I say Tunic is clearly influenced by Zelda, I’m not necessarily on about Breath of the Wild. Instead, it’s a love letter to earlier Zelda games – top-down dungeon crawlers with crunchy combat and persnickety puzzles. It’s cartoonish, but not in some bombastic way that’s overly reliant on primary colours or scale – it’s elegant, and refined, and it carves out its own unique identity right from the get-go.
Luckily, even in this small, curated demo, the coherence of Tunic’s world is perfectly visible. It’s essentially an overworld split into multiple different, slightly separate levels. I hate when people compare everything to Dark Souls, but the level design genuinely did remind me of the first Dark Souls, where everything seems detached and far away but in actuality is very intricately connected to one another. There’s a sequence in the demo where you go into a cave, right, and I shit you not, there is a cat statue with a small bonfire, which, when used, resets the enemies around you – but not the shortcuts you’ve unlocked to skip them. It looks like Zelda made for fox children, aye, but there’s a bit more to it than that. The whole thing is Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind x Dark Souls, the super-cerebral, long-awaited combination of Hayao and Hidetaka we’ve all been waiting for. Except it’s much lovelier and cuter than that combo might sound, right down to the undecipherable symbol-based language that makes the whole thing a load of brilliant nonsense. Click on anything and you’ll get a symbol that looks as if it was penned by Picasso aged four – how are you supposed to know if you’re supposed to say “OK” or “No” to that? That’s part of the magic, innit.
When you boot up Tunic, you’ve got nothing on you. You wake up on a beach, presumably shipwrecked or seaswept, and you’ve got to make your way through unknown territories to figure out what the hell is going on. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll soon nab yourself a modest stick, which is perfectly suited to thwacking Tunic’s version of Zelda’s Chuchus – once the Darknuts come into it, though, you’ll want something a bit sharper.
It’s also worth noting that this is an incredibly generous demo. It’s only part of the game, sure – there’s a great big golden gate at one end of the map that is apparently “SEALED FOREVER,” although I reckon that’s just the main game area – but there’s an awful lot to do. On top of that, it’s not the easiest game around town. I got my sword without dying once, then twatted pretty much every single monster in the cave mentioned above before taking so much as a scratch in return. Then I got overconfident, slashed through some tall grass, and tried to take down an enormous bone demon who erupted out of a load of muck when I wasn’t looking. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that it had Anthony Joshua’s reach, Snorlax’s bulk, and the speed and vigor of a cybernetically enhanced cheetah, all while looking like a Xenomorph turned inside out and upside down. At least I think that’s what it looked like – honestly, I was too busy unsuccessfully running away to get a proper look, and I switched to Mass Effect 3 once it clobbered me because deep down I’m a four-year-old sore loser who ragequits when he gets a booboo.
And yet still, as I type this, I’m looking at the time on my monitor and subtracting it from when I’m scheduled to finish my shift so I know how many minutes I have to wait before I can jump back into Tunic and get smacked around by a skeleton all over again. Except this time I’ll be the one doing the smacking, actually. Hopefully. Let’s be real, I think I went to an overleveled area, but still, that’s even better – as I said, this demo is remarkably generous, and I reckon it’s well worth checking out over the weekend if you’ve got access to an Xbox. It’s free, brilliant, and evokes old-school, traditional Zelda in a way I’ve never seen any other Zelda-like manage, and do you know why it does that? Because it doesn’t solely rely on Zelda’s formula. On the contrary, it is explicit in establishing its independence from those iconic games, opting to adopt certain elements of them, but reinventing each and every one of them just enough for it to still feel authentic and new. Tunic is a spectacle of design in the most true and triumphant way, and if you don’t give it a go while it’s available for free… Well, you’re making a bad decision and you should feel bad. Do us both a favour and stick it on download, yeah? I promise you won’t regret it.
- For all Zelda fans, the free Tunic Xbox demo is a must
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