By: Fernando Da Costa
Developer: LEAP Game Studios
Publisher: HypeTrain Digital
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
SPEAK TO THE GODS! - Introduction
Lately, there have been several discussions on a plethora of serious topics spanning diversity, the environment, human rights, and so on. The former point, especially, is still ongoing. Tunche is a game with a heavy emphasis on diverse individuals. The cast comprises varying heritages, with themes toying with beliefs and traditions. Falling into the Roguelite genre, the core gameplay loop is handled like a side-scrolling beat 'em up. The action is fast-paced, with a narrative that delves into subjects like Gods. From Pachamama to the serpent mother of water, Yacumama, it presents these entities with a hand-drawn aesthetic. Harnessing these properties, Tunche hopes to stand out amongst a crowd that, at this point, is over-saturated. That fact won’t deter it from accomplishing its quest for greatness, but will it succeed? Let’s find out.
CAN YOU REPEAT THAT?! - Writing
When it comes to the storyline, Tunche doesn’t do anything to tip the scale. It’s a balanced approach, travelling a straight road with a lone twist in sight. That isn’t to say there’s no substance within these bones, though. There’s an attempt to flesh out the characters. It gave them background, trying to explain why they were kicking toads and breaking trees. The only issue is the plot lines are very shallow, albeit serviceable. Essentially, they’re all tangible, allowing me to sink my teeth into the narrative. My hunger for a cohesive tale was somewhat satiated, but I needed snacks. In total, there are five selectable fighters, spanning from a girl proficient in magic to a bard that can annihilate his enemies with just a guitar. I like that each has a unique story, too, nailing their different identities - again, it’s nothing that stands out.
So, as a Roguelite, repeating runs is the norm and combating a boss multiple times is expected. With this, however, there’s a clever tiny implementation that differentiates it from others on the market. You see, every time you confront a boss, their dialogue carries forward. They question why you’re persistent while divulging more on plot events. The script has a limit, of course, and eventually starts to echo itself. Regardless, this tiny detail does a lot to give a sense of continuity to this world between all your deaths. The character personalities themselves are hit or miss, though. Some are bland, while some have quirks I rather love. Hat girl, for instance, still maintains her adorable mute facade, while the bard talks exclusively in rhymes. I do appreciate Tunche being faithful to Peruvian lore, but, unfortunately, it telegraphs the only twist.
PUNCH A FACE IN! - Gameplay
Gameplay is where Tunche excels, and some astute design decisions were made. For anyone familiar with beat ‘em ups, serving out combos is the bread and butter. One problem I always find within this genre is once a powerful sequence of moves is found, I constantly spam it to maximize damage. That’s not viable here; well, if you plan on improving your rank, that is. Each punch, kick, and butt bump contributes to the betterment of your overall grade - D, C, B, A or S. By exploiting the same moves, the build to the following rank is slow and sluggish. To effectively increase it, Tunche actively encourages you to experiment. By utilizing everything in your arsenal, it rapidly grows. For the most part, button prompts are responsive, making it simple to use all available techniques. There’s a reason you’d want to do so, too.
A TRINKET FOR YOU AND ME! - Gameplay
You see, as I traversed through levels, I occasionally came by trinkets. These come equipped with special effects, too, ranging from applying a shield to only activating once a specific rank is struck or surpassed. I’ve got to say, the latter bunch are bloody practical, regardless of caveat. That’s why it’s urged upon to bounce between moves. The enhancements they all grant turn killing monsters into a simple task. Take, for example, the trinket that causes sporadic thunderbolts to purge foes as a barrage of melee attacks is unleashed. As the screen fills with action, the framerate never struggles either. That, however, still presents a problem because it does hinder the visibility of enemy attacks. I was hit countless times, thus resetting the counter. It’s frustrating, and the needless tedium that adds is an annoyance. Being high rank by the end of rounds also means better rewards, amplifying my irritation.
WALK THE TIGHTROPE! - Gameplay
The one feature that can render a game in this genre unplayable is balance. Well, Tunche is rather well done in that respect. The main issue is that whole levels have many mini areas within. There’s more than a healthy amount, but as you progress forward, fighting begins to crawl. Furthermore, if you enjoy long sessions, combat becomes a repetitive chore. There’s not enough to keep it exciting, and despite the game trying to negate button mashing, repeated play devolves to that very thing. Nothing motivates me to keep going, bringing me to the most baffling aspect - Hat Kid. She’s available from the beginning. Having her act as an unlockable could have been the reason to push on after beating the main story. As is, she’s used as a selling point and not as an extra treat for fans of Hat in Time.
INSTABILITY INTENSIFIES! - Performance
As per my analogy on the narrative, there’s a single twist here. Unfortunately, it only takes one to cause multiple crashes. Tunche is a technological mess in that sense. Throughout my session, I suffered quite a few of them, with the first occurring after dying. The second, third, and fourth examples came about as I was transitioning back to the hub camp. The fifth, sixth, and seventh occurred directly after beating a boss. It certainly sounds horrible on paper because it is. To the game's credit, however, auto-save remains strong, saving my ass on several. Still, having to always reboot got real tiresome, real quick. Fortunately, my progress was never lost, although it got to the point that I’d tense up anticipating another crash - and that’s a terrible sign. In a poetic conclusion, Tunche crashed a final time as the credits finished rolling.
As the bearer of bad news, I regretfully report that bugs persist. On the light end of the spectrum, there are graphical hiccups during level transitions. Usually, it shows an image depicting the locale you’re about to visit. About once during each run, though, you’re met with a white rectangle instead. Inside it is multicolour squares with a random item floating at the center. Surprisingly, I had one crash following this, and every other time, Tunche continued into the next biome. Then there’s the bad one - the screen began blinking. It was during the third boss battle. As we fought, everything started flashing pitch black, making it nigh impossible to dodge. Luckily, it happened just as I was about to emerge victoriously. After 20 hours of game time, I suffered this only once. Nevertheless, this game is plagued by poor optimization.
MY FINGERS ARE TIRED! - Accessibility
In this day and age, I’m surprised by the omission of remappable buttons. Tunche, unfortunately, is one of those titles, an absence that works against it. Simply put, the current layout is unintuitive, with “Y” acting as the melee button. Due to the nerve damage to my right side, it’s difficult to stretch without feeling any strain. Sure, I could still execute combos but not as effective. I struggled to smash it at the speed that moves demanded, unlike if it were programmed to “A.” To test out my theory, I remapped everything through the system itself. The catch, however, is the in-game prompts didn’t alter alongside it. That was jarring and threw me off, causing me to mistakenly mash the wrong command, leading to a preventable death. Upon switching back, I did, eventually, adjust to “Y” but needed breaks to rest my thumb during a prolonged session.
AND THE DIVERSE VERDICT IS…
Puzzling decisions and poor stability hold down Tunche. The gameplay, while fun, doesn’t hold up after a long, several-hour session, sadly. There’s an expiration date, but it manages to regain some fun factor after a break. I did enjoy that each character received an individual story in the form of a comic book. It, however, is seemingly randomly stumbled on, with some runs turning them up in consecutive fashion and others turning up nothing. That was an issue as my memory made it difficult to keep track. Fortunately, they can be reviewed afterwards through a nifty little quality of life addition. There are skill trees, too, but they’re unlike other Roguelites. They have zero semblance of character building, resembling a level system instead, and teaching brand new techniques. Realistically, Tunche is a good time waster, but the unreliable performance makes it a forgettable one, too.
With decent music and gameplay loop, Tunche is a title best bought during a sale. That said, I give it a score of 6.
Special thanks to Team Critical Hit, who provided the code used for this coverage on behalf of HypeTrain Digital.