Review – Tunche

Sometimes, in order to really get the heart of how a game is going to be, it’s important to just dive right in. Don’t bother reading anything or learning anything beforehand: that might taint the pool before you take your first stroke. In a time of hyper information and trailers/teasers dropping months beforehand, it’s refreshing to start from zero. Tunche, which comes to us from LEAP Game Studios, goes a step further and drops you straight into the game with no explanation whatsoever. It allows you to pick a character and away you go, trying to fill in the details as you move forward into the heart of the Amazon. It’s exciting, it’s unknown, it has the potential to be devastatingly exciting.

It isn’t.

Four natives of the Amazon and...whatever Hat Kid is.

Five friends wait to see who gets to do something cool while the others chill at home.

Tunche is a 2.5D side-scrolling brawler with roguelite elements, where you choose from one of five characters as you dive into the rainforest in search of someone or something named Tunche. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Is this a spirit, an animal, a lost villager or a low fat breakfast topping? I have no answers to any of these questions, but that’s hardly the point. Each character has their own attack style and magic, and, as you progress further, you have a skill tree for each that allows you to add more combo hits, better magical attacks and generally powerup your character. Bosses appear to clench the end of each area, there are different artifacts to add passive powers to your run, and a talking llama will bilk you out of your money by having you do different challenges. You know, normal stuff.

One thing many people will gravitate towards is the visual aspect of Tunche, and for good reason. The artwork is incredibly smooth and detailed, giving a fantastic cartoonish appeal to the overall game. The jungle gives way to small villages, riverside vistas and plenty of other natural settings that evokes a strong idea of connection to the wild side of South America. No matter what else, I cannot dispute that the game looks wonderful when everything is working. The enemies are a variety of intense and corrupted animals, from the simple bloated frogs to half-decayed fish zombies, and the first boss brings back too many memories of Annihilation.

There was a small matter of distortion, however: certain textures continued to fizzle in and out, like an old TV with no channel, but I can’t tell if that’s on purpose or just a glitch on the Xbox edition. Sadly, I’m starting to think it’s the latter, and that isn’t the only flaw with the Microsoft release of Tunche. On a positive note, the fighting animation is butter smooth, letting your characters move smoothly between melee strikes, magical jolts and aerial combat, and it legitimately still looks fantastic with more than one character on the screen. Also, if you don’t have more than one character on the screen, you will have a bad time.

Remember when this thing ate Natalie Portman?

Nayra isn’t really excited: her idle animation just has no chill.

Tunche is very, very obviously meant for more than one player, and I unfortunately am not a huge fan of that approach. This is further hindered by the lack of online multiplayer, which, at least for an Xbox user, makes finding additional members a bit of a chore. This title, while being a brawler, is, theoretically, accessible to single-player approaches, but doing so is incredibly limited.

To explain, Tunche has two distinct skill trees, one for the characters and one for the artifacts. The artifacts, which will appear randomly as rewards during a run, can be powered up by a single currency that also drops as rewards, allowing them to become more effective (longer floating with an gliding attack, faster movement, etc.). The artifact skill tree is universal and can be powered up by everyone. The character skill trees, however, are unique to each character (good!) and the experience you gain from each character is also unique to their skill tree (boo!).

So, if you start investing a lot of time in playing as guitar-enthusiast Pancho, you’ll really have to circle back to square one for when you’re ready to experiment with Nayra, the fleet-footed warrior. While this seems very straightforward, it’s irksome to me: I wanted to reinvest my time across all characters, not go on a grind session as Hat Kid in order to make Hat Kid go.

Oh, the protagonist from A Hat in Time is here. That may or may not be explained as more than a Kickstarter stretch goal, but, at the time of this review, Hat Kid’s presence is a complete mystery. That’s less about me not exploring Hat Kid’s path and more about the game hard crashing everytime I tried to look into Hat Kid’s story path. The background and reasoning for these five to be chasing after Tunche is unlocked by choosing Book icons for the path rewards, and damned if Hat Kid’s doesn’t cause my Xbox One to scream and close the software. Hopefully that’ll be fixed soon, because I’d hate for anyone else to need to go through the motions.

Complementing the amazing visuals in Tunche are the sounds and ambience that the game provides. While nothing on the soundtrack stands out in particular, it’s a good amount of natively-inspired drums and flutes, coupled with some very squishy effects for the enemies from start to finish. The sound effects, to be honest, trump the music almost every time, adding in a layer of comic book feedback that’s aurally pleasing. I don’t mind having to thump the same enemies over and over again when they’re finished off by satisfying dissolving notes.

Isn't this the plot to Purple Rain?

Poncho knows what’s up. Music soothes the savage beast and all.

Unfortunately, where things really break down with Tunche is in the combat, the most important part of the game. First and foremost, it’s incredibly repetitive without really being rewarding until you’ve climbed much higher up the skill tree. You get a letter grade based off of your combos, but it’s a chore to try and keep the combo going when you can only do the same juggling routine over and over. Three strikes, aerial launch, jump and air combo, dash to where they will land, start hitting again, repeat.

With the large arena and the 2.5D aspect, it can be difficult to tell exactly where the enemies are in regards to your own strike box, so lining up the first hit is occasionally a bother (though it does come easier with time). And losing the letter grade to a single hit is punishing but fair, yet the rub of it comes from being swamped with enemy mobs that are on top of each other and sometimes mask which one is flashing (which indicates it’s about to strike). The letter grade affects a separate skill tree called Entropy, and it’s not that important but it’s a distinctly annoying moment to have to deal with again and again.

Kuzco really fell on hard times after the second movie.

And this llama is going to be the ruin of many gained goods.

Tunche is a game that’s made with a distinct purpose in mind, and, in that, it succeeds wildly. The Kickstarter campaign had a vision to bring to life, and they made a brawler that’s fun with friends, has an interesting premise, looks positively gorgeous and stands strong with a good replay factor. The bosses are simple enough, but do require learning in order to conquer. The flaw, though, is that this game is really only fun with two or more players: a single player game turns from a freetime departure into an ordeal of lather, rinse, and repeat. The achievements are rewarding and the comic book presentation of the plot points is clever, as well as a proper slow burn.

This is a great game if you have friends, as you can really see how the chaos and mayhem can be well balanced with cooperation and communication. For a solo endeavor, though, you need to love, and I mean love, the art of the brawl. So either grab a friend or grab a bottle, because you’ve got a lot to see on your way to find Tunche.

Graphics: 8.0

Beautiful sprites and backgrounds are slightly marred by a glitchy texture that never totally disappears.

Gameplay: 7.0

While bland initially, the skill trees and NPCs allow Tunche to become a satisfying brawler.

Sound: 8.0

Excellent ambience and effects help players get lost in the lore and the atmosphere.

Fun Factor: 6.5

The brawling is tight but the slow build to power, the misdirected strikes and swamp of mobs drains your patience.

Final Verdict: 7.0

Tunche is available now on PC, PS4, XBox One and Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Xbox One.

A copy of Tunche was provided by the publisher.