Deep in the lush, vibrant undergrowth of the Amazonian Rainforest, something is seriously amiss. While the beautiful flora and fauna of the miles-long foliage remains as stunning as ever, the serene tranquility has been shattered by violence, as the creatures who dwell within the jungle have turned aggressive and combative, attacking each other as well as any and all travelers who might find themselves passing through the Amazon’s mysterious world. What has caused this turn of events, and what does it have to do with the mighty Tunche, the all-powerful spirit of the forest?
Though the rainforest is seemingly swallowing all who venture near, a humble party of five intrepid explorers will dare to get to the very root of this mysterious chaos. The sorcerer, Rumi; the balladeer, Pancho; scrappy bird-boy Quayru; and the beautiful warrior, Nayru will steel their respective skills, abilities, and nerve, then sally forth into the green labyrinth, on a quest to restore peace and order to the land… Oh, and as for that silent kid with the magical top hat — well, I guess that they’re just coming along for the ride. The more the merrier… Right?
Developed by independent Peruvian studio LEAP Game, Tunche is an action-adventure that blends frantic brawling action with myriad roguelite mechanics, all daubed in a gorgeous, hand-painted aesthetic that celebrates the rich and vibrant culture of its developer’s homeland. Players choose from one of five uniquely skilled characters, before venturing into the rainforest and battling a menagerie of strangely twisted beasts, seemingly possessed by some otherworldly and nefarious force. There are four zones and numerous bosses to conquer en route to victory, a victory that will see our heroes learn more about the jungle, more about Tunche, and, as importantly, much more about their very selves.
Like so many roguelites before it, Tunche challenges the player to complete its momentous quest in a single run — a war of attrition in which minor improvements to the characters’ skills and abilities, as well as the player’s knowledge, will serve them better and better on each subsequent adventure. Should you fall, and you will fall, then you will be swiftly whisked back to camp by wise soothsayer Kawri. While this means your journey must begin anew, you can take this opportunity to reap the rewards of your previous run, spending gold coins, experience, and “Essence” to improve your favorite party member’s movesets and abilities, slowly building them up from a basic scrapper to a relentless combo-dropping machine.
In addition to honing your fighting abilities, the party will gather Mana-based abilities, housed within “Spiritual Cores” found at the end of each brawl-for-all. Ranging from healing powers and shield boosts, to score multipliers and elemental attacks, these additional skills will provide the backbone of the player’s attack plan, and can be further boosted by visiting the tight-lipped shaman, Ogi. Extra bonuses can be earned by gathering evidence of your conquests for an in-game database, or by gambling your gold against tough, objective-based challenges — posed by the bizarre “game show” llama, Leo. These and other magical characters offer opportunities to strengthen your party of heroes in both body and mind, making each dash into the undergrowth a little less harrowing. Preparation is the ultimate weapon, after all.
While Tunche is most assuredly a brawler, Streets of Rage 4 it is not. Nor is it, frankly, any of the recent efforts that have defined the modern brawler renaissance. As is typical of its roguelite roots, Tunche is a mostly repetitive affair. Grinding battles are by design, only really hitting their stride once the player puts in enough Essence to turn their character into a lean, mean fighting machine. That isn’t to say Tunche‘s combat isn’t deep — there are combos, air dashes, wall-bounces, launchers, and an array of projectiles and supers — but fans should go in expecting a bit of a button-mashing grind. This is not necessarily a negative on the game itself… let’s call it an occupational hazard of the genre.
In order to remain fresh, Tunche offers five distinctly different, equally likable characters, each of whom has their own story to tell and demons to conquer. As the player takes each character into the jungle, they will learn their individual tales of woe, the calling that has brought Narya, Pancho, Rumi, and Co. to this point. Equally, the player will get to grips with each fighter’s strengths and weaknesses: from Pancho’s raw power, to Narya’s extended reach. Qaru’s speed and agility vs. Hat Kid’s… erm… moped? 100%’ers will delight in maxing out each fighter’s skill trees, unlocking cool super moves and skillful combo sequences.
Tunche does not reinvent the wheel in any manner in regard to its brawling action, but it is solid, with room for player development as the adventure continues, and that’s important. Equally as important is the optional multiplayer. Tunche supports four-player local co-op on all platforms, which hugely boosts the enjoyment and engagement of the gameplay experience. Tunche breaks repetition through these characters, their expanding movesets, and its multiplayer options. When you tire of one run, there is always at least one hero lagging behind who you can switch out to. Like the best rogue-lites, Tunche always tries to push the player forward, even when they fall behind.
It would be an absolute crime not to speak of Tunche‘s beautiful hand-drawn visuals. Bursting with life, color, and personality, the cast of heroes and gallery of villains are all universally delightful, with animations worthy of the finest film studio. Whether running, striking, casting spells, or even dancing, each of the five heroes is full of life, leaving one thoroughly compelled to their stories, despite a lack of voice acting. Said stories are drip-fed to the player through delightful comic-book panels, all of which, frankly, just left me desperate for a Tunche animated series. LEAP Game Studios is clearly hugely passionate about the universe it has created here, and what the team has achieved to bring life to this small world — on a meager budget — is nothing short of astounding. Tunche‘s world is a compelling one.
I’ve spent time with both the PC and the Nintendo Switch editions, and I can report that both versions are mostly solid, save for some irritating bugs (many of which were patched earlier this week). Of course, the PC version offers a slicker, more polished, and more fluid version of the title, complete with a slew of graphical options. The Switch edition, however, is steady enough as a handheld title, and the grinding, single-run nature of the game makes it a perfect fit for commutes and bedtime adventures. At a budget price of $20, Tunche is a solid side game for roguelite fans on the go.
2021 has given life to an abundance of delightful, new, independently produced worlds. Tunche sits proudly alongside titles such as Cris Tales, Death’s Door, F.I.S.T., Tails of Iron, and Wildermyth as a title that overcomes its small-scale roots to deliver a visually arresting, exciting new world populated by a likable cast. Gameplay-wise, Tunche will certainly not be for everyone, given its intentionally repetitious design and slow-burn build. It cannot be denied that the game really isn’t breaking any new ground. But with its modest price tag and enjoyable multiplayer action, those with a side-eye for solid rogue experiences should consider partying up for this particular jungle cruise.
Tunche is a spirited jungle jaunt. A charming action-adventure that wears its Peruvian heritage with the utmost pride. While the marriage of roguelite to brawler is definitely a solid fit — particularly in multiplayer — it cannot be denied that the repetitious trappings of both genres are readily apparent, which will be enough to turn off some players. Those well-versed in the grind and willing to put in the effort, however, will be rewarded with a very agreeable bout of forest fisticuffs. Now, about that animated series…
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]