The one game that Tunic creator Andrew Shouldice never mentioned by name during an E3 2018 hands-off demo of the new indie action-adventure was Dark Souls. In fact, Shouldice actively refused to mention it, as if the From Software title that spawned a thousand comparisons was the Voldemort of video games.
While demoing the game’s lock-on targeting and melee combat system (which involved dodging and blocking incoming attacks with shields while managing a stamina meter), Shouldice looked at us and said, “It’s been drawing a lot of comparisons to one game. You know what game. I’m not going to say what game it is.”
So I’m going to say it.
Dark Souls. It’s Dark Souls. It’s an indie Dark Souls.
Others in the room drew comparisons to the original Legend of Zelda, and it’s not a bad comparison. The whole point of the game is that you’re a small fox who wears a green tunic and swings a sword, exploring an antagonistic world without any real prompting to guide you. Tunic‘s dungeons, too, are more like early Zelda dungeons: less about solving simple puzzles and more about clearing out rooms of enemies before proceeding to the next enemy-filled room.
But, I mean, come on. That’s pretty much what Dark Souls is as well, and then you’ve got the very Souls-like combat on top of that. The freaking checkpoints will even refill your health items, just like bonfires. And top it off, unlike in Zelda, Tunic‘s combat appears to require a decent amount of skill and concentration. It doesn’t seem to have a leveling system, although a later part of the game showed the character with more hearts of health than they had previously.
This places Tunic firmly in the company of the many indie games like it that have come before. Hyper Light Drifter and Bastion are the most obvious comparisons, and more recent releases like Moonlighter (which has the added benefit of a shop-management system) and Swords of Ditto! also immediately come to mind.
That’s not to say that Tunic is completely lacking for novelty. Hidden throughout the game are ripped up pieces of what looks like an old-school video game manuals, presented as if they were ancient documents, complete with the game’s indecipherable fake language that can be found on sign posts throughout the world.
I asked Shouldice if Tunic‘s language, like Fez‘s, could be deciphered. Should I play the game with a notebook and pen handy?
Not really, Shouldice said. The language, it turns out, is there more for texture, to make the world that the player inhabits feel even more foreign and unwelcoming.
Here’s the thing: I love indie hack-and-slash action games, and I have a feeling I’ll love Tunic. The combat seems fun, the art direction is pretty, and it’s undoubtedly a labor of love, which means it has craftsmanship and heart for days.
But, deep down, what it really is, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, is indie Dark Souls with a fox.
Tunic is coming to Xbox One and PC sometime in 2018.