Review – Tanuki Sunset
Skateboarding raccoon. That’s all I needed. Sincerely, I heard about Tanuki Sunset, an upcoming solo racing/precision game from Digerati, and then I saw that it was about a raccoon on a longboard (the wheeled kind) and I was in. The wrapping paper around the present – the neon drenched graphics, the silly characters, and the chill soundtrack – were just cherries on top of what should have been a delicious sundae of play and relaxation. I don’t need every game to be this gut-wrenching evolution of my psyche and what it means to be a game. I don’t need a game mired in controversy or the centerpiece of every conversation because of what it did next. Hell, I still play Where’s My Water? on occasion because it’s just a fun little ditty to bang out when I’m waiting for my pasta to cook.
So I went into Tanuki Sunset with just three boxes to check. One, I wanted to enjoy the simple pleasures of downhill skateboarding with a creature who should not be on a skateboard, much less on what appeared to be a highway. Second, I was looking forward to maybe rocking out some dope tricks or generally feeling awesome about doing a game that was clearly inspired to be both awesome and hilarious with cool settings and ideas. Third, I couldn’t wait to hear that banging soundtrack that was so tantalizingly featured in the trailer, with some really awesome synthwave and chillcore tracks to help make the most out of this journey. It might not seem like much, but that’s all I needed.
Hey, two outta three ain’t bad.
There’s not a ton you need to understand or even try to comprehend for Tanuki Sunset to live in your heart. You play a raccoon, clearly called Tanuki, and you love to ride your skateboard down a series of increasingly dangerous streets and places. You’re supported by the locals at the skateshop, your mom, and several other well-meaning characters who just flit in and out of your world.
As you skate, you collect little bits that are all over the place that act as a universal currency to unlock different boards, wheels, trucks and articles of clothing. I say “different” and not “better” because, if there is a metric system to gauge the quality of one board over another, it’s invisible and seems irrelevant. Same for the clothing, which, no problems there: the threads are tight and fun, and you get the most important one, a helmet, for free after the first track. It’s actually pretty sweet that your mom sends you a free helmet to wear, and I chose to don that for the remainder of the game.
Tanuki Sunset gets a bunch of points for an overall score every time he does a run, and the points seem natural if you’ve ever played a skateboarding game like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Going off jumps and doing tricks, long form drifting, and near misses, a la Crazy Taxi, are the keys to success if you want a bunch of points. If you’re really determined, there’s also score and time trials in the skateshop that you can do on an arcade cabinet to really get the feel for what you’d like to accomplish. It’s also where you can make a stand about how you’d like to approach the game. On the one hand, getting high scores and collecting bits are super important, but you need to finish runs in order to unlock more courses, so choose your battles as you move forward.
Like so many games of this ilk, when Tanuki Sunset comes together, it really sings in a big way. It captures this gorgeous feeling of fun and relaxation when all the stars light up. You’ve got a long stretch of highway, the cars are sparsely parked, and the music is bumping along in such a satisfying way that I can’t help but smile. The overall effect is such a positive vibe that it warms my heart. I want the whole game to be like this, forever. You just coast along and grab some triangles, maybe take a couple turns and squeeze between some cars. It’s just all good and you feel like everything’s going to be good forever.
That’s the thing: you can, absolutely, play the game like this from start to finish. If you blatantly ignore both the score aspect and about half the controls, then you can play Tanuki Sunset in peace and just be a happy camper. The problem is, you’ve got all these other buttons. One to push to help you drift around tight corners and do flips when you go off jumps. One to grab your board when you’re in midair, and also do sort of a 360 spin to get particular bits (and earn extra points). Then there’s one button that just makes Tanuki face backwards on the board, which does nothing to affect control, so it’s just for visual fun. Right?
As soon as you start using these other buttons, which you’re encouraged to do from the tutorial, things start to go out of control. It takes an incredible amount of finessing to figure out how long and how deep you should drift around tight curves, and forget about trying to do it on the regular roadway. The level of frustration and anger that came from skidding off the mountain either from under or overcompensating cannot be counted enough.
Here I am, trying to just enjoy a little thrill ride with my new raccoon pal, and I am CONSTANTLY dying and being flung off into the void. I think I died playing this more than Dark Souls, because at least I recognized I was trash and put that game down before I lost my mind. Here, I KNOW I can pilot a goddamn raccoon down the 495 during a light traffic day and yet there I go, sailing off into the void again.
Coupled with the frustration from controlling are the levels themselves. I get it: you hate to be in the middle of an awesome racing game and, right as you find your groove, the level is over. It’s why you have multiple laps in Mario Kart and virtually every other game. But here, the stages for Tanuki Sunset are silly long with very, VERY spread out checkpoints.
Which means you can be just a few hundred meters from the finish line, miscalculate where a truck is and eat bumper (or eat wall, like in Midnight City), and now need to do the last three minutes of racing all over again. I get it, three minutes doesn’t sound like much, but you’ve done that three minutes about six times now and your kids are starting to wonder if you secretly hate the raccoon and yourself. But no, you just want the finish line to appear so you can go back to the skateshop and see if getting purple wheels will alleviate your stress.
Speaking of stress, I’m incredibly glad that a bug in Tanuki Sunset was ironed out shortly after launch. The 1.0 version of the game had a critical difference than 1.1, because the soundtrack – the one that I am so in love with – was doing my head in. For whatever reason, once a song ended during a run, it doesn’t go to the next song. It would be one thing if it just looped around and I “had” to listen to “Before the Sunset” or one of the other phenomenal songs over and over, I’d be super stoked for that. It’s that the song ended and now I’m left in deadly silence with the sounds of the road coming through.
The wheels on the pavement, the whoosh of the wind. You know how you turn off the radio and drive in silence because life has gotten to be a bit too much and now you’re thinking about the mistakes that lead you here? Imagine that but you were PURPOSELY trying to relax and groove because you’re a raccoon on a skateboard, but guess what, here you are. Thankfully, players will not have to deal with this, and I get to made an addendum to my review because I had a stomach bug and couldn’t finish before embargo lifted. Congratulations, parasites!
The visuals and aesthetics of Tanuki Sunset cannot be ignored, and the developers wanted to help everyone capture that. Since Tanuki knows that he looks the part of the chill groove, the Photo Mode that’s available at every second of the game helps to prove it. You could try to frantically grab a screenshot in mid action, but being able to pause, pivot, tilt and add in the game logo anywhere makes for some incredibly sweet shots.
Naturally, pausing and grabbing a shot can interrupt game flow, so be sure to be smart about these things. You’ll immediately slow down, which can be great for going around sharp turns and not being frantic when you get back into gaming, but it also ruins your flow if you’re trying to get a speed record. But, as someone who’s trash at racing games, I was way more concerned with a sweet screenshot than breaking scores.
So where does that leave us? The Tanuki Sunset looks and sounds fabulous. If we can paint this same level of ideals onto other games – adventure games, roguelites, dating sims – I would have titles for days. As a points-based sports game, it succeeds and it falters in equal breaths. The tracks are too long and can feel repetitive, but there’s a procedural generation to them that prevents players from simply memorizing routes and calling it a day. The tricks are simple and unvaried, so you can just do flips over and over to get the same 500 points and not risk sailing into the abyss.
But I also recognize that players can and will enjoy this challenge and get a few hours of enjoyment out of the full game, much as I did. So I say this: if you see the raccoon on the longboard and think “I love where this is going,” then come on the journey. I’ve spent far more and played far less, so let’s groove together. If you’re hesitant, just roll on by. Tanuki’s living his best life, you should too.
Varied stages with different levels of colorful nonsense, the protagonist is adorable and the sheer number of costume designs make him a visual delight throughout. Excellent screenshot capabilities.
Once you complete the tutorial, you get the general idea. Difficulty and enjoyment are in equal parts, so successful execution comes from risk and being okay with a lot of the same elements happening again and again.
Positively banging, each track brings a different aspect of chillwave, synthwave, retrofuture and every type of internet genre to best encapsulate what Tanuki Sunset is all about.
Your ability to get through it all in a day or less means it’s up to you to decide if the repetition is the center of your world. For me, it simply wasn’t, and I was done enjoying myself sooner rather than later.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Tanuki Sunset is available now on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PS5.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
A copy of Tanuki Sunset was provided by the publisher.