Tunic review: A fox in Dark Souls clothing

Don't let that cute, cuddly fox fool you, because Tunic has some teeth.


When the story begins, Tunic feels refreshingly familiar. There's an adorable little fox, dressed in a green tunic, lost on an island, facing down hordes of monsters. There's a sword and shield to pick up and secrets around every corner. It looks like developer Finji has put together the kind of game that would fill the retro Zelda-shaped void in my heart.

Then, I die the first time. I soon discover that in place of Zelda-style exposition, I must explore the world. There's no direction, only more exploration. Then, I die again. I start to encounter more enemies, many of which require different strategies and approaches. Then, I die again. I wind up in a world I'm not supposed to be in yet, where I find powerful foes. Then, I die again, and again, and again. I soon start to hear the words "YOU DIED!" in my head, but I persevered as I noticed myself gradually growing stronger. That's when the realization sets in. This is no Zelda homage. Tunic is a cleverly-disguised Souls tribute! And, so help me, I love it.

It's dangerous to go, period

Tunic has a story, but it's not one that's outright given to the player. A young fox finds himself marooned on a mysterious island. There's no exposition, no narration, and no dialogue. The rest of the pieces are up to the player to put together, but even that isn't as simple as it might seem. In fact, that leads to one of Tunic's most interesting features.

Nearly everything in Tunic is expressed in the game's native language. Whether it's an item pickup, a sign outside a house, or a text description, very few text instances are written in basic English. It is up to the player to overcome the language barrier and figure out what is happening for themselves. This extends to one of the game's defining mechanics: the instruction manual, which has lost pages scattered throughout the island.

Back in the days of the NES and SNES Legend of Zelda games that help inspire Tunic, video games used to come in boxes with instruction booklets. They'd feature thorough explanations of a game's story and mechanics, while also including tips and unique artwork. (I wrote about the lost art of instruction manuals a while back, if you care to read it.) Tunic's instruction manual operates on the same principle, but it isn't just there for fun and flair. Understanding and interpreting the manual proves to be a puzzle in itself and will often offer hints on how items work, how key mechanics operate, and where the player should go next. It's an idea that makes Tunic truly stand out.

When the instruction manual isn't being used as a central guide, Tunic is mainly about exploration. The best way to find out where to go is simply to look around. This is where Tunic operates more in the spirit of the old Zelda games, as players will often find secrets hidden behind various nooks and crannies. This is helped by a static, isometric overhead camera view, which only rarely ever moves. Because the camera is in a fixed position, it's easy to hide paths in plain sight. These can lead to unopened chests or even new chambers that may contain a new way forward and, by the end, I was amazed at how many secret paths Finji could squeeze into this game. It proves to be to the game's benefit, because rather than get handed a sword and shield, I felt like I had earned those items en route to becoming a complete warrior.

Of course, after getting the sword and shield and believing I was ready to take on the world, the world kicked my butt.

You Died, but looked adorable doing it

Tunic does a great job of scaling up its enemies to match a player's power level. When you're only wielding a stick, the game becomes about strategically picking apart enemies and making sure you're not outnumbered. It becomes about knowing when to strategically retreat. After picking up a sword, and later the shield, those early enemies become ants to stomp to the ground. Then you miss the left turn at Albuquerque and wind up in a later part of the game by accident, where enemies practically vaporize you in a single shot.

While Tunic doesn't feature the FromSoftware-style "YOU DIED" text, it might as well be there, taunting you every step of the way. However, like the best Souls games, deaths begin to diminish after enough exploration, enough adjustment of the main character's stats, and more importantly, enough learning. Survival means reading enemy movements, knowing when to strike, and not rushing the offensive process. There's room to learn throughout the game, especially upon hitting the game's bosses, which grow to massive sizes and deliver discombobulating attacks.

By the end, Tunic delivers the best element of a Souls game. It makes you feel proud for surviving. It makes you look back at the giant fallen behemoth at your feet and get that swell of pride upon realizing, "An adorable fox in a tunic did that." It's not easy, but once you earn it, there's no feeling like it.

Furry of Time

To dismiss Tunic as a Zelda clone upon first glance would be doing it a huge disservice. Developer Finji has put together something special with this game, a game that lures players in with its adorable mascot character and delivers a deceptively difficult adventure. Tunic can be outright intimidating at points. However, the game does such a good job in helping bring players along, whether it's through stat upgrades or new pages of the instruction manual, that the difficulty never feels debilitating or inaccessible in any way.

Tunic's unique use of its instruction manual is brilliant, taking what would be a fun easter egg in most other games and utilizing it in a practical manner. The implementation of the language barrier opens the door to players' imaginations and allows them to interpret the world in their own way, while presenting some practical puzzles along the way. There's a deep, satisfying adventure underneath that adorable aesthetic and it's one that's worth embarking on.

This review is based on a Steam digital code provided by the publisher. Tunic is available now on PC, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One for $29.99 USD. The game is rated E10+.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

Review for
  • Adorable visual style
  • Massive world begging to be explored
  • Language barrier cleverly implemented
  • Instruction manual is a brilliant tool
  • Enemies are tough, but not impossible
  • Some puzzles can be a little too obtuse
  • Minor enemy AI issues
From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 16, 2022 10:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Tunic review: A fox in Dark Souls clothing

    • reply
      March 16, 2022 10:05 AM

      This looks a little like Death's Door. Have you played that, Ozzie?

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        March 16, 2022 10:20 AM

        A little bit, yes. The primary difference, outside of the open nature of the world, is that there's basically no direct story in Tunic. You're putting it all together as you go.

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          March 16, 2022 12:54 PM

          Does it have a map, my s0n?

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            March 16, 2022 1:13 PM

            Yes and no.

            So as you find instruction manual pages scattered throughout the world, you'll find maps of the areas you'll inevitably encounter. Now here's something I found a few days into the review and I'll put this in spoiler text.

            If you're actually in any of those locations and you open up the instruction manual, you'll notice a little fox head indicating your current location. So that basically becomes your map.

    • reply
      March 16, 2022 10:37 AM

      So many good games

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        March 16, 2022 1:14 PM

        + not enough time :( , still I am picking this up today :) !!!

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          March 16, 2022 1:22 PM

          I'm going to force myself to finish Elden before buying it, let us know how it is!

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            March 19, 2022 2:45 PM

            The developer is from Halifax, so another reason to support!

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      March 16, 2022 11:22 AM

      the demo absolutely turned me off from the game, hopefully they made some fixes to it

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        March 16, 2022 12:06 PM

        I uninstalled it after realizing I couldn't rebind movement keys :/

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      March 16, 2022 12:09 PM

      It's on GamePass for anyone that wants to try it out.

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      March 16, 2022 1:15 PM

      Awesome, I am picking this up today for I had Tunic on my list and really enjoyed the demo! Thanks for the review + https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-BkrwO_Dck :)

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      March 16, 2022 1:21 PM

      I enjoyed the demo quite alot

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      March 16, 2022 1:22 PM

      This looks great

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