You might think that gaming takes us to varied places, but there are vast swathes of the world we don’t get to see. LEAP Game Studios, makers of Tunche, are from Peru, and they’ve chosen the Amazon Rainforest for the setting. And while you might have explored the Amazon for treasures as Lara Croft or Nathan Drake, or dropped in with an assault rifle to stage a coup, you’ve rarely – if ever – explored the area from an indigenous perspective, or dived into the myths and stories of the region.
Tunche shows why gaming’s blinkeredness is such a bad thing. It’s jumping into a particularly prolific genre – the roguelike brawler that Hades has been popularising – but still manages to emerge as unique and standout, mainly thanks to the focus on indigenous stories, told in wonderful comic book panels, that are so different from what we may know. Tunche shows that you can find an audience by moving away from the commonplace.
It helps that Tunche is also gorgeous. Screenshots don’t quite do it justice, as a lot comes from the lighting and animations, but this is a top-drawer cartoon that just happens to be a video game.
The character designs are simple but effective, bringing a layer of magic to the Peruvian designs. Our favourite was Qaru, a winged boy, whose arms are covered in black feathers and he wields them like a quasi-shield. But all of the characters have their charm, from the hulking musician Pancho, who punches with a burst of musical notes, and Nayra the warrior, who is a dervish with a spear. If anything, it’s a disappointment to see Hat Kid from A Hat in Time making a crossover appearance, as she feels out of place and time.
You can pick any one of these characters, and invite up to three friends to join you. And you should, because Tunche’s enjoyment multiplies as you add each player. This is not a game that’s best played solo. It shares a perspective with Castle Crashers, and the same goes for its emphasis on multiplayer. When you are wading through waves of enemies, having mates to share the experience is far more preferable and files off the repetition.
Controlling your character is simple enough. You have an X attack that combines with further presses of the X button to create combos. A Y press gives you a projectile attack, which will be similar regardless of the character you choose (it differentiates as you level up). And you can jump and roll to give yourself some maneuverability. But the standout addition, which feels a mini-delight to use, is a ‘juggle’ with the RT, which thrusts the enemies into the air so you can jump up and hit them repeatedly.
Keep the combos flowing and you will get a performance rating at the end of the wave, rising from D, C, B, A and then to S rank. The higher the rank, the greater the volume of reward, and each wave has its own reward. You might have wandered into a wave that gives XP rewards rather than Shard rewards (the currency in Tunche), so you’ll get a bigger shower of XP. At the end of the level, in typical Hades style, you are given a series of paths and an indication of what will be on each path. You might be given the choice of a wave that leads to an artefact, a passive buff that applies to your character, or a challenge room, a shop, a boss or simply a wave-based room that generates a lot of rewards.
This is a roguelike, so death is inevitable. Once you die, you will be booted back to the camp where you have a few methods of improving your characters. The library of artefacts can be upgraded through five tiers of improvement, while each character has three tabbed windows of upgrades that can be made. When you consider that there are five characters, working through about thirty upgrades each is more than enough.
A roguelike lives or dies on two battlefields: the first is the moment-to-moment gameplay, and the second is how enthusiastic it makes you about hopping in all over again. With Tunche, for all of its lavish art and fantastic mythology, it never really gets going on either.
The engine of Tunche stutters and stops. A good roguelike acknowledges that you’re going to be retreading old ground, so it makes you increasingly powerful, to the point that you’re barely acknowledging the earlier mobs in later playthroughs. It’s not grindy, because you’re now a colossus of combat. But in Tunche, progression is too miserly: a successful run might give you enough shards to upgrade one of your artefacts, but you can’t guarantee you will see that artefact in your next run. You might have enough to upgrade one character ability, too, but the improvement is pretty minor, and you’re only improving one of thirty improvements on one of the five characters. You’ve got a whole other set of upgrades on the other ones. Which – as you’d expect – means you tend to keep to the character you like, at least until they’re maxed.
The miserly progression puts a hell of an onus on the moment-to-moment gameplay. If you’re going to be playing hundreds of times to max Tunche out, it needs to feel top notch. But Tunche can’t get there. The main problem is repetition. There are four worlds here, and world one and two are both forest locations that feel extremely similar (and all of the worlds are on the same small, flat plane). Creature variety isn’t broad enough, so you’re leaving the same toads, fish and lizard-things in your wake. Waves go on for far longer than they probably should, as you defeat the first lot of creatures and then a second lot drop in. It means that a new run comes with a grumble, as you acknowledge that the first fifteen minutes or so are going to feel dull.
Combat takes a bit of the burden, but it ends up being too much for it. Enemies are sponges, particularly the bosses, taking plenty of damage to kill, so you’re button-bashing with the odd roll, ideally moving into a pattern of juggling your opponents. The juggling is satisfying and gives the odd dopamine hit, and reaching an A-ranking often means that you’re more powerful, but the core – long chains of button-bashing – cannot sustain the game. By the twentieth or so playthrough, Tunche gets tiresome.
We deeply wanted to love Tunche. Roguelikes are our jam, and we were completely and utterly smitten with the setting and art-style. But when it comes to the pact that comes with a roguelike – that you’re going to have to play run after run if you want that motherlode of enjoyment – Tunche can’t get a signature from us. The combat is too simplistic, the levels too repetitive, and the progression too measly. Cooperative play tries to paper these cracks, and it’s absolutely the best way to play Tunche, but those faultlines are too large to obscure.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better-looking or more visually original roguelike than Tunche. It would be all too easy to find one that’s more enjoyable, though.
You can buy Tunche from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S