Tchia is a bold, uncompromising, and wonderfully colorful adventure – Review!
Sometimes games are more than the sum of their parts, as they rise to a level where they become a highlight—a moment in time when everything just stops working, and nothing else around you matters. She remembers playing it for the first time along with fond childhood memories and life-shaping events. Despite being a small-team indie title, Tchia is definitely one of those games, carving out its own quirky identity while offering you a world in which you can lose yourself in utter bliss for dozens of hours.
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Navigating, shifting, and attaining
The first time you load Tchia you are told this is a game inspired by New Caledonia. The team behind it wanted to take everything I love about Country and present it as an interactive package that highlights its best elements while also addressing an enjoyable story using deep game mechanics. On every level, it’s a success. However, the game’s story started out rather slow – so slow that I’m concerned many players will be put off before they start eating it.
You play the titular Tchia, a young girl who lives on a small island with her father. After completing some missions that serve as lessons for the game mechanics, you see the world of Tchia turned upside down. Her father has been kidnapped, and she wakes up with a best friend on a makeshift island. From there, you are handed a raft and sent out into the big, wide world.
The visuals are cartoony, but Tchia doesn’t limit itself to exploring serious topics. This is an ancient story that reflects Tchia’s innocence as it progressed. It starts out slow and light, eventually becoming grotesque as Chia’s worldview is clouded by reality, and she tries to see the light through the darkness.
Similar to the real location it’s based on, Tchia’s game world is huge and diverse. The two main islands are well divided between tribal and rural groups of people who live in small wooden houses and a gigantic city occupies most of the second island. Therein lies the game’s main villain, and the world design does a great job of adding to their oppressive presence. The people are truly the stars of the world, which makes it feel full despite the vast expanses of open space with nothing but animals to keep you company. Tchia is a great example of world design done right in this sense, as some of my favorite moments were interacting with the locals and meeting a delicate group of wood carvings living on an island made of coral.
Lean yet very satisfying
Two of my favorite things about Tchia are the racing and playing music. The races see Tchia possess all sorts of monsters and blocky items and pass through checkpoints within a time limit. They are very fond of and take advantage of crazy game mechanics in ways that just feel fun. There’s no point in hitting them 100%, but they do allow you to answer all those pesky questions like, “How fast can a rock band roll around these mountains?”
On the other hand, music is at the heart of Tchia in many ways. The aforementioned rhythm games can be frustrating because they mostly use the radial guitar-like user interface of The Last Of Us Part II. While you can skip them all, these rhythm games highlight more of the country’s culture and are just another fun element on a level you don’t see much in gaming today.
Another way to play music in the game is through Tchia’s harp. This is an item that you can pull out at any time, and the songs have magical effects. Aside from making me point and shout Windwaker at my screen, harp can summon animals to possess weapons and change the time of day. This is one way you can see Tchia laying her inspiration bare for all to see, but the mechanic is also intrinsic to completing the game.
Yes, it feels just as powerful and special as in that Zelda game.
Over the course of the roughly 15 hours I spent with Tchia, I didn’t come close to getting everything available or unlocking every upgrade, yet I was able to sample everything on offer. This is the beauty of this game. It’s easy to get ahead of the core story without feeling bloated, to the point where you’ll want to engage in side activities to make it last longer.
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Slow burn to a strong finish
Sadly, the game’s slow start resulted in completing what looked like fetch missions for most of the first few hours. These are important because they deftly explore the cultures of New Caledonia, but they’re a drag on the pace of the game when all you want to do is drop all the mechanics you’ve learned. That comes later, but not until the game decides to let you unleash.
The unfortunate pacing of the early game is also when you’re struggling to take control of the Tchia map. It doesn’t show your exact location, although you can find it in banners around the world. This makes it difficult to navigate at first, but soon you’ll master the country even if you don’t know where you’re going. As long as you follow your compass, you’ll get where you need to be, and while the lack of a map icon makes Tchia more immersive, it’s annoying more than anything.
During this starting section of the game, you will learn how to easily sail around each island, improve your stamina by eating Stamina Fruit, collect collectibles that will be important to progress, and master shapeshifting. Tchia has a special power that allows her to inhabit and control most objects and animals for a short time. Once you are well versed in how Tchia moves, you can own a bird, fly over a location, jump, fire a few shots with your slingshot, then run away as a bird or use something else like a boulder, and throw it at any walls.
Every aspect of Tchia can be improved through minigames and collectibles. There are hundreds of these scattered all over New Caledonia, but there is no pressure to look them all up. One feature I love is that Tchia’s story ends with an endgame state that regenerates the world, giving you an excuse to explore more and achieve 100% completion.
Do the anti-chia method
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By the halfway point, Tchia feels like a Zelda game in all the right ways, thanks to the fact that you start getting enemies regularly to avoid, master, and attack. Tchia feels like a game that actively avoids bloodshed and dark undertones early on, but it all goes out the window the moment the main antagonist devours a baby alive.
The thing that surprised me is that there is boss fighting in the game, but it’s very much Chia’s style of boss fighting. Instead of bullet sponges that you need to launch attacks with, you have to solve the most challenging puzzles in the game and destroy your enemy from within. It’s the exact opposite of the beginning of a game, giving you exactly what you want and cementing that journey you’ve just been on as one you’ll hold on to for a very long time.
Dive straight and stay below the surface
It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game like Tchia, but I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed exploring the world and story through the lens of mechanics. It has all the ingredients of a great open world game, without any of the fillers. You choose your next activity, explore the world at your own pace, and decide how much you do or don’t want to engage in every part of New Caledonia.
The version of the game I played had some visual bugs and crashes, but the developer was very hot with producing updates and even worked with me to fix an issue that it seemed I was just having. I have no doubt that from day one Tchia will be in great shape to play, but it may need future patches to make it perfect.
Tchia is like diving into a warm, clear ocean. You can see so much amazing around you, a whole world that you want to be a part of and can feel included in by doing nothing more than looking. It won’t run you hundreds of hours, and it won’t revolutionize gaming as we know it, but that’s okay. If you allow it, this experience can enrich your life in ways few can.
|+||A huge world to explore that doesn’t hold your hand.|
|+||Uncompromising atmosphere keeps the game happy and fun all the time.|
|+||Solid mechanics that are incredibly fun to play with.|
|–||Navigation is deliberately unclear and will frustrate many.|
|–||There are quite a few bugs, glitches, and malfunctions that disrupt the overall great experience.|