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Island Hopping

Welcome to New Caledonia

New Caledonia, a tiny French colony in the South Pacific, is not exactly a hot topic. Indeed, even more geographically inclined gamers could be forgiven for failing to locate it on a map. Unless you count historical map games like Hearts of Iron IV, this might be the first time I've seen it in any piece of media at all. So, when I heard that an indie studio founded by a couple of New Caledonia natives it piqued my interest, as the decision to base their game's setting on the obscure island is something that indicated the project was born from a genuine passion rather than a cynical attempt to make something marketable or cool.

This personal investment in the setting is a great boon for Tchia, as there is evidence of a great deal of attention placed into the development of the game's world. The islands here are gorgeous and sprawling, with different aspects of their beauty being highlighted by the different phases of the day-night cycle. Each island is divided up into a series of unique biomes, making a simple trip from one end of the island to the other a visually stimulating experience. Additionally, these islands are positively littered with secrets, collectibles, and places to explore.

The only issue is that everything, at least in the preview version feels too warm and friendly. There is little sense of danger as you make your way through the game's world. All the locations are visually different, but few exude an air of mystery or intrigue. This could be just a result of the first areas of the game being kinder to the player than later stages, but it would have been nice to at least have a few creepy ruins or ominous caverns sprinkled about the opening sections if only to clue us in that the game was more than just sunshine and rainbows.

The game world sure is beautiful, it's just a shame then that the human character models are so hideous. Ok, perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I'm sure that there is somebody out there that finds the human characters of Tchia aesthetically pleasing. Indeed, the schools of art that Tchia's character most closely resembles (Corporate Memphis and Tumblr fan drawings) are distressingly popular. However, to me, they look like soulless duplo dolls.

Zelda and Mario

Tchia isn't shy about borrowing ideas from other games. At its most basic, the game feels like a stripped-down version of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with its emphasis on exploration, adaptive soundtrack, hang-gliding, climbing mechanics, and stamina meter. The only major tweak Tchia makes to this formula is to combine the health bar and stamina bar, a baffling move as it would make falling from lack of stamina an automatic death sentence. To counteract that the game gives you a free couple seconds of an emergency hang-glider, which has the opposite problem of making a fall from any height and condition survivable. Of course, Breath of the Wild is not the only Zelda game it takes inspiration from, Tchia's raft (the primary means of transport for getting from one island to another) is influenced by The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Tchia also features a Soul Jump mechanic that is straight from Super Mario Odyssey. It gives Tchia the ability to temporarily possesses a creature or object and use its unique abilities to traverse the landscape. I found the most useful creature to possess by far were the birds, as with them a short flight could get you to the top of a mountain or cross a difficult obstacle with ease. The fish have their uses too if you want to plumb the ocean depths without worrying about oxygen. The other objects I tried (deer, rocks, and barrels) just allow the player to move across the landscape a bit faster than running as a human.

The ability does raise some rather bizarre questions about the nature of the game's world: namely, what determines whether a given object has a soul or not. I couldn't detect a pattern at all. It isn't as simple as all animals have souls, as soul jumping will not work on insects. Indeed, inanimate objects like Rocks apparently have souls, as do some inanimate man-made objects like barrels. It makes me wonder what sort of inner life an empty metal box has. In any event, it is a fun mechanic even if it was somewhat underutilized in the preview version and invites perplexing questions about the nature of the world.

A Recommendation of Sorts

If you were to ask me if I personally was looking forward to Tchia's full release, I would have to confess that I was not. In terms of both aesthetics and gameplay, Tchia does little to excite me at this point. To draw me in, an open world has to have some danger or intrigue; it needs some mystery to unravel or conflict to triumph over. Tchia is just too warm and cuddly, to the point where I can't imagine the world harbours any danger at all. Sure, I am travelling from place to place, but that alone does not constitute an adventure.

However, just because I am not Tchia's target audience, does not mean that the game does not have one. I would imagine that small children (and probably more girls than boys) would get more enjoyment out of it than I did. While the charming pastel world of Tchia leaves me somewhat cold and disillusioned I'm sure that a gentler soul would find it absolutely engrossing.

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