It’s said often, but the sheer amount of indie games we see today is awesome. The landscape has changed with less third party publishers and the advent of more resources helps, but geeze are we blessed with loads of content. The greatest thing, however, is when developers take their time and focus on what matters to them, and that’s what the team at Awaceb has done. In Tchia, we not only have a charming tale of a girl adventuring for answers, we have a unique take on the place they call home.
Tchia, our titular heroine, finds herself less of one at the beginning of the game. She’s doing normal things on a little island with her father, and waiting for the arrival of a family friend with needed supplies. It’s after this beautiful segment of welcoming him with a “coutume” (a customary gift) that everything hits the fan. The next day a helicopter comes to the island, stealing Tchia’s dad away and leaving her stranded with Tre, the family friend. But not before Tchia gets a swipe in at the villain’s (named Meavora) second in command, Pwi Dua, using a special power she didn’t know she had.
This is where you get into the nitty gritty of Tchia, and there is a lot here I didn’t expect. Starting with the story, there are so many delightful moments, but there are similarly several that are absolutely harrowing. I’ll do my best to stay out of spoiler territory, but Meovara does something extremely revolting in your very first meeting, and it’s not family friendly. There is an option to turn on a family friendly filter in the settings, so I warn anyone grabbing this for your little ones, make sure that’s active.
That being said, there are highs and lows when it comes to the story of Tchia. There is some great story telling that occurs when you’re still in exploration mode at the beginning, as well as in a specific forest you reach along the way. But, the main narrative can be a bit hard to keep up with. It can be a little shallow as well, with a one-dimensional villain and plenty of backstory that’s missing in action. I’m not expecting Oscar-worthy cinema here, and the main story is decently short, but there’s so much more I’d love to learn beyond the story Tchia presents. It isn’t bad, but it never reaches the potential it has.
Maybe it will take a second game or expansion, but I’d also like to see more from some of the characters you’re introduced to. I felt like I bid farewell to many of them far too early, and their part in the story was simply to move me to the next chapter. They are all stellar, and besides Lilly, I don’t know that any of them get their moment in the sun. Exploring them further is definitely on my wishlist for whatever comes next for Tchia.
On a more positive note, the display of the culture from Awaceb is amazing and also where the narrative is at its best. Tchia’s location is based around the small island of New Caledonia that resides in the Pacific ocean, with tons of inspiration taken from its culture. Some of the developers of Awaceb are from there, and so much of their passion bleeds through the gorgeous landscapes and endearing sequences. While some may not prefer the choice to record all of the dialogue in French and Drehu, I really enjoyed the immersion of it. That, combined with enchanting musical performances (the music of the game is incredible in general) make for heartstring tugging moments, which you can engage in by a “play the instrument” mini-game if you’d like, or allow it to proceed automatically via a button press.
Speaking of button presses, Tchia’s gameplay is top notch. A lot of people will want to compare it to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it’s not a bad compliment. There are plenty of mechanics that will remind you of it, with gliding and climbing anything (as long as you have the stamina), being chief among them. Honestly, if you mash together BotW and Windwaker, you have the basis of what Tchia contains given the art style (I love the cartoony take). I will say, if you go into Tchia expecting a lot of combat, think again, as your trusty slingshot isn’t often used beyond a few puzzles. That’s okay though, this game is better without as much combat, and with its focus instead on exploration.
Exploring this wonderful island is paramount to succeeding in Tchia. Something I’m not as big a fan of is the map design. I like the approach, with plenty of icons to let you know what things are as you uncover them or reveal them through the traditional “climb a tower” method, but Tchia herself is never shown on the map except if you stop at a sign post on a road or after the tower. It follows exactly how you’d use a map in real life, using landmarks and specific junctions of the road, but I found it to be a bit obtuse when you manage to be on the map if you’re sailing the boat.
Running around the island itself though is where the joy of Tchia lies. We’ve already talked about how amazing the culture is throughout Tchia, but the construction of the island is simply stunning. There are stinky swamps, rocky mountains, grassy valleys, bubbling rivers, and more as you survey the countryside (and it’s all visually outstanding). There’s even a town center and other structures, although it’s extremely basic and lackluster compared to the rural areas teeming with flora and fauna. Tchia’s strength is in the freedom of the outdoors, and it’s a spectacle worth taking in. This goes doubly for the ocean, where sailing your raft is an exercise in relaxation.
Of course, just running around isn’t enough to be a good video game. There has to be plenty to do, and while there is, Tchia falls into the open world, Ubisoft formula a bit too much. Tons of activities and things to gather or find litter the landscape. Awaceb does a good job of tying some importance to them, with certain upgrades attached to some, but it’s a bit too much. You can see by the picture below, I finished the game and still had a ton to go and do. It’s possible to enjoy the game on your own time, and it’s certainly beatable without everything, but I don’t think they needed to add as much as they did. For instance, it makes sense to show me where a totem carving station is so I can upgrade my soul jumping power, but the surplus of chests to get cosmetics is overwhelming (although I really like how much you can customize your Tchia!).
Once you get going, you start to find little tricks in the traversal that make Tchia oh so much fun. The physics system is awesome, and once I had a handle on it I intentionally slid down steep hills. It helped even more than that, as I could leverage that into a jump that would catapult me out into a glide. Besides that, using the soul jump ability to possess a bird to fly or a shark to swim can cut the time off of a commute, or even allow you to take a different route in approaching your destination.
It’s not just animals either, with puzzles or fights you’ll have to win through soul jumping. The main foes you’ll face are fabric soldiers, and as obvious as it sounds, fire is your best friend. I would routinely jump to a burning log and bounce around the battlefield, destroying them and their fabric piles at a devastating clip. There was one mission in particular where I was supposed to blow up large excavation drills, but picking up explosive material didn’t work because it was volatile. Instead of picking it up, soul jumping to it and rolling to the drill and chucking it in as I exited made for an easy answer to my problem. There are so many ways to use this, and I’m sure the internet will be littered with some great solutions people find as they play with the feature.
While there aren’t a ton of them, there are some great settings in Tchia that make it more approachable. We already discussed the “Family Mode”, which lowers the intensity of certain scenes, but there’s more than that. Besides aim assist, motion aiming, and inversion for controls, there’s also the ability to change mashing a button to holding it for specific prompts. These are great, but two others stick out even more in adding more legible fonts, as well as a no-failure mode. Some may see those as super easy modes, but everyone deserves to play video games. Even more, there’s also the ability to completely skip your current gameplay segment via the in-game menu, which can lead to spoilers, but also give you a way out if you’re stuck. It’s nice to see Awaceb helping everyone enjoy Tchia.
While Tchia's story doesn't find the steadiest of footing, its world and portrayal of culture are outstanding. The gameplay is also a lot of fun, even with a decent amount of padding to keep you busy in the gorgeous open world. New Caledonia is certainly worth the visit in this digital representation.
- Stunning and charming world
- Fantastic gameplay elements
- Beautiful music
- Wonderful display of culture
- Interesting friendly characters…
- …but let down by the story not reaching its potential
- Map design
- Can be a bloated collectathon