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Tunche May Be Just What the Beat ’em Up Genre Needs

Tunche might not rewrite the beat ’em up formula, but its solid mechanics and alluring sense of style are a breath of fresh air for the genre.

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Tunche

Tunche Indie Snippet

All too often, the beat ‘em up genre has rehashed the same setting time and again: you’re a lone hero out on the means streets of an unidentified inner city, ready to use your bare knuckles to pulverize any opponents standing in your way. That’s why Tunche, developed by Peruvian indie LEAP Game Studios, feels so refreshing. Set in the pre-Columbian Amazon rainforest, Tunche takes the tried-and-true beat ’em up formula and injects it with a sense of mythical whimsy, with a sprinkling of roguelike gameplay to boot. It may not be a groundbreaking take on its genre, but its solid mechanics and alluring sense of style make it a worthy proposition for fans of addictive action.

Tunche opens with a ragtag group of travelers gathered around a campfire. This team is a motley bunch if you’ve ever seen one, including varied characters like a minstrel who speaks exclusively in rhyme, a boy who’s been cursed with wings for arms, and, for some inexplicable reason, Hat Kid from A Hat in Time. As unrelated as these wanderers may seem at first, they’re all united in one purpose—they’re on a journey to meet Tunche, a mythical being who lives deep in the heart of the forest. The path to Tunche seems impossible at first, requiring you to overcome seemingly endless hordes of the jungle’s most fearsome fiends before even having a chance of reaching the end. With a roguelike structure, though, it’s all a matter of persistence for these intrepid travelers to endure countless failed attempts before they become strong enough to see their quest through to its conclusion.

Image courtesy of LEAP Game Studios

Tunche immediately makes a strong impression with its Amazonian setting, and its plot plays a major role in supporting that appeal. Each traveler has their own distinct story arc, portrayed through comic-book-style cutscenes that provide information about their backstories and motivations. While many of these narratives can verge on the predictable, it’s the themes they present—including a mix of concepts unique to the cultures represented in the game, as well as universal principles that hold true for all people—that make the plot and setting truly hit home. Fantastical creatures and down-to-earth characters emerge from the mysterious environs of the Amazon, making the plot effective for all audiences.

If you’ve ever played something like Streets of Rage, then you’ll know exactly what to expect from Tunche—and that certainly isn’t a bad thing. Each new quest toward Tunche’s domain will see you trudging through 2.5D environments and duking it out with all the monstrous fiends you encounter. With a handful of simple two-button combos, as well as more elaborate fighting-game-style directional inputs eventually all at your disposal, you’ll be well equipped to handle the poison-spewing toads, mischievous spider monkeys, zombie fish, giant condors, and any other foe that crosses your path. Once you clear out a room of enemies, you can be on your way to the next room where you’ll do it all again until you cross paths with an occasional boss or, if you’re skilled enough, reach Tunche himself.

Image courtesy of LEAP Game Studios

Of course, Tunche isn’t content to give you all these abilities from the start. Rather, in an effort to set itself apart from its beat ‘em up predecessors, it also adopts a roguelike gameplay loop that brings with it all the iterative action associated with that style. Every run toward the elusive forest god begins in the same place, and when you inevitably fail, you’ll return to the exact place you started. You certainly won’t be helpless when you start your first run through the jungle, but with only a basic punch and one long-range magic at your disposal—without any combos unlocked, either—your moveset will be as bare as your knuckles in the first few runs.

Upgrading your character requires gaining experience points in combat and spending those points on a skill tree to unlock new combos, abilities, and stats—and since experience points don’t carry over between characters, you’ll have to grind up each fighter from the very bottom of the skill tree if you want to create a robust team. This progression system ensures that you’ll always feel like you’ve accomplished something in even the shortest runs, but at the same time, so much grinding and strategizing can feel out-of-place in a beat ‘em up, a genre that thrives in mindless, addictive action. The repetitious designs of each level, all of which boil down to flat, featureless arenas for fighting your foes, don’t make it easy to go through the grind again and again.

Image courtesy of LEAP Game Studios

Even then, there’s an undeniable appeal to Tunche’s basic action system. Its controls are simple yet satisfying to maneuver, and like any good arcade romp, it’s easy to get addicted to chasing high scores as you chain your attacks into ever-longer combos. Characters’ movesets feel largely similar to one another, although there are just enough tweaks related to each character’s defining traits—such as Pancho’s ability to strum a destructive guitar chord that wipes out enemies in front of him—that make each fighter feel unique and viable in themselves. That’s not to mention that local co-op is a blast as well: having a friend along for the ride can certainly mitigate the issues of repetition or character progression. Even if you’re playing on your own, though, Tunche’s solid mechanical basis means that it nails that all-important simple fun factor that makes a beat ‘em up truly work.

It doesn’t hurt that Tunche is a visual and auditory delight, too. Its hand-drawn graphics are stunning to behold in action as player characters and enemies alike boast fluid animations packed with personality. From the detailed panes of each comic-book character story to the painterly backgrounds hiding behind each level, Tunche brims with colorful splendor reminiscent of the cultural traditions that inspired it. Its percussive soundtrack, driven by constant hand drums and rhythmic winds, further complements the mood. A handful of performance issues and glitches in the Switch version (including one that led the game to crash) can sometimes put a damper on the aesthetics, but these problems are so few and far between that Tunche turns out to be much more of a positive experience.

Image courtesy of LEAP Game Studios

Tunche may not rewrite its formula, but it does something just as significant—it adds a new dimension to it. Its Amazonian setting populated by fantastical creatures is a breath of fresh air in a genre clouded by grimy urban streets. Not only that, but its rock-solid action—progression and repetition issues aside—lets the game nail the pure and visceral fun that makes a good beat ‘em up so tough to put down. With its jungle filled with fantastical mysteries and monsters, Tunche adds new characters and stories to an old-school genre of brawlers, offering an action-packed journey that genre fans shouldn’t miss.

Campbell divides his time between editing Goomba Stomp’s indie games coverage and obsessing over dusty old English literature. Drawn to storytelling from a young age, there are few things he loves as much as interviewing indie developers and sharing their stories.

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