By Scott Ramage / March 25th, 2020
Editor’s Note: Due to the postponement of GDC, oprainfall has taken it upon themselves to help provide coverage to developers who were going to showcase their games there. This is one of those games.
El Tunche is a legend about a spirit in the jungles of Peru, known for the whistling noise it makes as it approaches its victims. It makes sense then that LEAD Game Studios, based out of Peru, could take inspiration from that to create Tunche, a 2D beat ‘em up sporting some gorgeous art and fast-paced co-op play. With a demo available on Steam for a limited time, I took the plunge into the Amazonian jungle to see if the game played as well as it looked.
Story is pretty light in the Tunche demo, but the long and the short of it is as follows. You play one of four characters—a shaman, a warrior, a cursed boy with bird-like wings, and Hat Kid from A Hat in Time—and fight your way through the deepest, darkest parts of the jungle. Every character handles slightly differently, like how the shaman can summon fire and Hat Kid can fire a beam from an umbrella. These and other abilities will take you through a total of five areas: three enemy encounters, a bonus room and a boss fight.
The developers of Tunche cite games like Bayonetta, Devil May Cry and Dragon’s Crown as inspirations, and the combat makes that inspiration quite apparent. Each character in Tunche has a basic melee attack, a stronger melee move, and a magic attack, all of which can be mixed together in various combos. These can be done on the ground or in the air, and the game assigns letter grades for how well you chain together attacks. Of course, just mindlessly spamming attacks can get you killed pretty quickly, which is why there’s a dash/dodge and jump for every character, the latter of which can transition into mid-air dodges and attacks or a charged-up ground pound. I was worried about enemy variety, particularly in terms of their attacks, since at first I was able to just kite enemies together and do the ground pound over and over. Thankfully other enemies showed up which required me to change strategies and use other attacks.
Tunche almost immediately prompts the player to use a controller, and for a good reason. I tried using the keyboard setup early on, but the awkward assignment of buttons had my right hand cramping up from trying to tap dance across five keys all crammed next to each other. The controller setup is fine, though with this being a 2D game I was a bit surprised that the directional pad wasn’t used for movement. Instead, it has one direction assigned to potion use. Movement and attacks are all fluid and easy to grasp, except for one thing: vertical mid-air movement. When I jumped and tried moving up or down the screen, it often ended with the character flying way farther than I thought they would. The game itself was thrown off too, as a couple of times I or an enemy trying to follow me clipped through the background or foreground.
Speaking of, the first thing most people will notice about Tunche is its art style, consisting of hand-drawn animations and backgrounds. Screenshots cannot do justice to just how smoothly everything moves in this game, be it the playable characters, the effects of spells they use or the enemies they beat up. Something else screenshots can’t convey is the music, which has lots of tribal drums and wind instruments. Tracks shift from peaceful to tense to haunting while trekking deeper and deeper into the jungle. Part of me wonders if the wind instruments are sometimes imitating what the whistle of El Tunche might be like, but that could just be me reading too much into it. My only gripe with the sound as a whole is the noise used for getting hit. It’s lacking in impact and the enemies make the same sound as when the player gets hit, so it can be harder in crowded fights to tell when you’re getting hit without staring down the health bar.
Part of the rogue-like element to this game is that the enemy encounters will change slightly each playthrough, though in the Tunche demo I didn’t notice much change in enemy spawns until my seventh or eighth attempt to finish it. The more significant rogue-like element comes when all the enemies are cleared in an area. A tree pops out of the ground and drops two random abilities, like leeching life from defeated enemies or a chance of chain lightning appearing between two enemies when one gets hit. It’s apparent there’s a slant toward playing co-op, since some abilities are specifically geared toward helping allies but still appear when playing alone. Adjusting these drops to account for single player might be necessary down the line.
Tunche has a great look and a solid foundation for its game, but there are still a few minor nagging issues to work through. The good news is it has the time to do so, with the third quarter of 2020 as its targeted release date. While the demo was only available for a limited time, the free to play Tunche: Arena is still available on Steam. Just try not to get lost in it. After all, it’s a jungle out there.
LEAP Game StudiosPCTunche