After playing a short snippet of Tchia back in January for a preview, I had complete faith that developers Awaceb would deliver on their promises for their open-world adventure. Tchia’s island is a marvel to behold. Not only is it gorgeous, but it’s bursting with things to do: sailing, climbing, totem carving, gliding, pearl diving, sharpshooting, tree hopping, treasure hunting - the list goes on and on.
Not only that, but there’s a 10-hour story to follow, quests to complete, and baddies to tussle with. It's a lot, but Awaceb seem to take it all in their stride. Never once does Tchia feel like it’s bursting at the seams; its balance of activities, exploration and story make it feel perfectly whole. The game's incredible scope doesn't feel like the debut of a nine-person team, but astonishingly, it is. We've had a good run of Bestest Bests on RPS this month, and I'm more than happy to extend it because Tchia is an absolute triumph.
We first meet Tchia on her home island, a tiny reef on the outskirts of a larger, sprawling archipelago, where she lives in peace and quiet with her father. The two’s tranquil isolation is rudely interrupted, however, when Tchia’s father gets kidnapped by a henchman of Meavora, a half-human half-worm god creature who rules over the archipelago. Tchia leaves her island to save her father and put a stop to Meavora’s evil reign.
Out of my 20-ish hour playtime with Tchia, the story ran around 8 hours, and if we took out all of the times I got distracted by spurts of exciting exploration or playing with the latest shiny activity I found, it would be less than that. Its whimsical island story, about a young girl discovering her newfound magical abilities, is short but punchy, and acts as a sturdy through line in what can be an overwhelming amount of stuff that’s thrown at you. It almost acts as a round-trip through Tchia's giant set-pieces. You get a bit of story in each new area before it untethers you and you're free to run around. There's a lot of drama, a heap load of adventure, and even a little bit of romance - which was a nice surprise.
I also love how authentic the story is to its inspiration. Tchia’s myths, magic, and baby-eating gods are interwoven with inspirations from a real-world place, that being New Caledonia, a small archipelago in the southwest Pacific. It's the birthplace of Awaceb’s co-founders, and you can just feel the love and passion they have for representing their home in video game form. New Caledonian culture, folklore, and traditions are stamped all over Tchia. Every character in Tchia speaks in a local dialect, a mix of French and Drehu, and are voiced by local actors too, some of which had never acted before. It just makes Tchia feel like a lovingly-made game made by people who really care.
These inspirations carry through into the in-game archipelago itself, which, put simply, is utterly gorgeous. There are thick jungles, murky swamps, sandy beaches, rocky cliff-sides, winding rivers - it’s basically a huge patchwork quilt of various terrains. These micro-biomes are home to different plants and wildlife, which feels a little farfetched until you know that New Caledonia is known for its micro-climates and exceptional biodiversity. And not a single inch of the islands in Tchia is barren. There’s always something to find from sunken ships at the bottom of the ocean to treasures found on the highest of peaks. There’s just an openness and curiosity to exploration that feels wonderful, and it’s very much a ‘follow your nose’ kind of adventure.
I banged on about this in my preview, but the way that Tchia lets you traverse its islands is one of the best features of the entire game. Dotting a bunch of icons on a map to explore is great, but if I have to walk everywhere to get to them you can forget about it. You don’t even have to touch a single toe to the ground in Tchia unless you want to. The islands' many rivers mean you can jump on a boat and ride the wind to your destination. You can tree-hop across the thickets of trees spread across the landscape, catapulting yourself from one to the next. Completely mistime your tree hop? Just bust out your glider and sail gently to the ground.
You can also climb on any surface you like, Breath Of The Wild-style. Sometimes there are little hiccups, like how you need to awkwardly position Tchia in just the right way for her to start climbing, or you reach a lip in a wall or surface that she won’t be able to maneuver around - but it’s easily forgiven because you can literally climb on anything. ANYTHING. It's pretty cool. You have a stamina bar that depletes, but it can be permanently extended by finding and eating Stamina Fruit that are nestled around the island. Even more reasons to explore!
I also love that you have a map but are not told exactly where you are on it, leaving you to use the environment around you to work out where on the island you currently are. If you'd like some help, Tchia will circle a large area of the map for you, but it’s up to you to narrow it down. It’s easy to orientate yourself by using the island’s shape and surrounding satellite isles, but if you’re properly stumped you can always climb to gain a better vantage point. You also have a ukelele on hand, which you not only get to jam out on during musical cutscenes, but also possesses magical abilities. Whip it out and start strumming and you can affect the world around you, from changing the time of day to growing giant bouncy plants that launch you into the air. It also lets you summon different animals to soul–jump into, and wow I can’t believe I haven’t touched upon soul-jumping yet - so let’s get into it.
Another way to hitch a ride in Tchia is to soul-jump into animals. Whenever you’re near an animal - be it a dog, turtle, warthog, cow, fish, you name it - you can activate Tchia’s power and possess that creature. Each animal has their own special abilities too, like how a crab gives you the pinch ability to cut through ropes and other materials, or how stags can sprint incredibly fast letting you race across the island. I was forever jumping into the birds for quick transportation, sailing through the air then leaping out of them and using my glider to land gracefully at my destination. The only thing you need to keep an eye on when you're excitedly jumping from critter to critter is a magical bar at the bottom of the screen that depletes over time. When it empties, you’re launched out of the animal’s body regardless of if you’re fifty feet in the air or at the bottom of the ocean.
Soul-jumping feels incredibly fluid, whether you're playing with a controller or keyboard and mouse. You can use your power from far away, so there's no need to be stealthy. I've been playing Tchia with a controller, as it feels a little more intuative than M+K, and soul-jumping is as easy as aiming with LB and pressing RT to launch yourself into the critter. In no time you'll be moving around the island, soul-jumping as you go, with ease.
Think your soul-jumping is pretty slick? Well, your skills can be tested against the Maano, fabric monsters that lurk around designated camps that hold special items. Jumping into animals is good for the approach, but you’ll need to jump into objects like lamps, fuel canisters, and other flammable objects to launch yourself at the Manno and set them on fire. Early game camps advance into large-scale factories as the story progresses, really testing your familiarity with soul-jumping. I like these challenges; they feel more aciton-packed than Tchia's usual laid-back vibe. Something for everyone, innit.
When you want a break from being an arsonist, there are plenty of activities to unwind with. The map is dotted with hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of icons, and I just want to give you some stats here. There are 95 treasure chests to find, 180 trinkets to collect, 33 Maano camps to dispose of, 10 statues to destroy, 58 stamina fruits to find, 8 shrines to visit, 80 pearls to seek out, 36 campfires to unlock, 16 race challeges to win, and on and on and on - it’s ridiculous really. It’s not important to get them all, but if you’re a completionist who likes to clear a map of icons you’ll have your work cut out for you in Tchia.
I’ve not even talked about the totem shrine missions, the photo mode, or the cool rock-balancing mini-game! I’ve finished the story and have cleared a fair bit of the map but, wow am I not done with Tchia yet. I feel like I’ve still got a good ten more hours of exploration and activities left to do. It doesn’t feel like mindless task-ticking either, because the island has such a presence about it that it's just a joy to behold. Awaceb have really created something big here and their whimsical island adventure about a young girl discovering her magical powers feels incredibly heartfelt. There's a pure, authentic, passion for game development in Tchia that I’ve not felt in a long time. What a wonderful game.