Recently, I was lucky enough to sit down with Tchia, an upcoming open-world adventure game from Awaceb. Set on an island inspired by New Caledonia, Tchia is a sandbox game that sees you as the titular protagonist in search of her father, who is taken and held by the new villainous leader of the small archipelago you call home.
The thing that hit me right off the bat as I loaded into the world of Tchia was its splendid visual style. The charming, cartoonish look of the people and animals manages to feel familiar and unique in its own right. Then there's the environment, which glows with such life that instead of doing the main objective as soon as I loaded in, I just decided to go for a very long walk and see what I could find. Two things that stuck out to me most were the designs of the trees and the detailed, gorgeous ocean that surrounds Tchia's map.
The attention to detail and beauty of the environment in Tchia clearly stems from the love Awaceb has for New Caledonia. As is made fairly clear through the game's promotional material and in playing it, Tchia is a love letter to New Caledonia, from the cultures shown to the outfits you can equip yourself with. I'd personally never heard of New Caledonia - which is a small island in the Pacific Ocean for those not in the know - before I began playing, but now I've had a good few hours with Tchia, I am excited to learn more about the place the developers clearly have such a fondness for.
The dedication to representing New Caledonia in Tchia has given it a lot of originality. I was slightly scared as I jumped into Tchia that it would be another one of those charming, relaxing, but ultimately passable indie sandbox experiences. However, Tchia's links to its setting through the developer's own connection with their home of New Caledonia is something that roots the game throughout.
So, with the lovely visuals and charming world out of the way, what about the gameplay of Tchia? Well, there are a few key pillars to the gameplay that I found throughout my time with it. There's exploration, which is similar in theory to Breath of the Wild, in that you have a stamina meter that runs low the more you engage in stressful activities like hanging onto a glider or climbing. However, in Tchia your stamina meter is also your health meter. There is an option to allow you to never run out of stamina, and while this could help if you wanted a truly relaxing experience, I kept that option off throughout my time with the game.
As stated you can run, climb, swim, and glide your way around the world of Tchia, which are all pretty standard features unless you take to the air, as once airborne Tchia can do a flip. Not exactly a necessary feature but one I thoroughly enjoyed.
There are two other ways you can get around the map in Tchia, one of which being your boat (which is really more of a raft) and Soul Jumping, both of which are huge gameplay mechanics. Starting with the former, your raft is an interesting way to navigate the rivers and sea, as you've got to complete a few minor tasks to get it working properly. I figured this out the hard way, after just getting wind in my sails and crashing into more than a few riverbanks. But, once I figured out how to steer, increase speed, and drop anchor, I couldn't wait to explore more.
The Soul Jumping mechanic does exactly what it says on the tin. You can jump into different creatures or objects to help get you around the world. Your soul can only stay inside an object or creature for a limited time, though you can increase this time by picking up different items in Tchia's world. Soul jumping is incredibly cool once you get the hang of it, and it was the way in which I defeated the few enemies I found in Tchia.
Yes, there is combat in Tchia, as you have to rid the world from fabric monsters that have helped the man who's taken your father. These guys do pack a punch, and I experienced my only death in my playthrough thanks to them binding me and beating me up. So yeah, watch out. The way to beat them is with fire, something I discovered after Soul Jumping into a log which then caught fire and rolled around dispatching all of my foes like I was in some twisted Gmod Prop Hunt where the props could take revenge.
Tchia is a fun sandbox experience that doesn't seek to hold the player's hand. Rather than have giant markers telling you where you are on the map and where to go, you'll have to use your trusty compass and listen to what Tchia says in the map screen if you want to figure out where you are. Apart from exploring the map in this way, and getting involved in the world, there's also the Ukulele minigame, which I encountered twice on my playthrough and again was pleasantly surprised by.
There's been clear effort put into making the Ukulele a real part of Tchia's character, and the rhythm game attached to it is difficult but enjoyable too. However, on the second time I used the Ukulele I found it to be quite frustrating, not by any fault of the instrument but because in order to use it I had to climb up a mountain, meet a girl for all of two minutes, before climbing back down to travel back to where I'd started from.
This issue was notably minor, and hopefully this kind of irritating backpedalling isn't rife in Tchia's full build. Another problem I had was in the characters and story of Tchia. Being thrown in a few hours after the story's beginning was bound to be jarring, but I couldn't find anything about the characters, even Tchia, that made me want to revisit their stories and find out more about who they are.
Tchia is a gorgeous sandbox with a charming world brought about by the dedication Awaceb has taken to bringing New Caledonia into a video game. Its gameplay mechanics are varied enough to make me think I've only just scratched the surface of what I can do in the game. However, it is marred at the moment by a lack of interesting characters and a story that didn't quite manage to grip me. Hopefully, in its full build, Tchia can provide that spark that'll make it feel like a near unavoidable game.