Sun, sand, sea, and what feels like an eternity to enjoy it; that’s what we all dream of, right? It’s why we work tirelessly for our paychecks so we can live a jet-set lifestyle. It’s why we break our backs often doing things out of obligation when we would rather be playing video games. Then even when we play video games, a lot of us gravitate towards the mass of open-world games that urge us to follow map markers and complete tonnes of objectives until inertia sets in. The latter is why I have been so excited to get my hands on Tchia, a game that promises to give autonomy back to the player within the open-world setting.
Ever since the open-world format became a staple of the gaming industry, we as gamers have been buried in quest markers, map markers, and collectibles, and the rhetoric has always been that there is a sense of urgency and obligation to do everything and see everything. Well, in Tchia, an experience that is steeped in the rich traditions of New Caledonia, you are dropped into a tropical island setting where you set the agenda. No one holds your hand, or drags you from A to B. Instead, you are given the freedom to explore, make discoveries and immerse yourself in the indigenous culture of New Caledonia.
However, you may be wondering if this laid-back island adventure is everything that it’s cracked up to be. Is this Moana meets Windwaker, or is this a game that promises the world, but instead falters due to its ‘You can do anything’ approach? Well, that’s the question I will be answering for you today. So without further delay, here is IGC’s Tchia Review, conducted on PS5.
Picturesque but Choppy Waters
As we raise the sail and catch the wind to get this review moving, let’s talk about the presentation of Tchia. Right off the bat, I would like to say that this title does an incredible job of building a world that looks and feels like a tropical island paradise, which is inspired by the developer’s home, New Caledonia.
The game makes a point of not telling players where to go and what to do, aside from the main questline, allowing you to explore and uncover new points of interest throughout the island. This means you can explore the city, trek out into the wilderness and swing from the treetops, or soul-jump into the form of a bird and drink in the skyline as the sun sets. No matter what you choose to do, the view tends to be pretty wonderful.
However, while the setting, art style, animations, and natural day-night cycle all do their part to immerse players in this vibrant and inviting setting, sadly, the frame rate proves to be a near-insurmountable issue. Unlike a lot of critics out there, I very rarely mention FPS as a pain point in reviews, but in the case of Tchia, the drop in quality, when compared to the norm, was so drastic and noticeable that I simply couldn’t ignore it.
The rubbery character and animal models, I could overlook. The random events where the camera would clip under the map, I could overlook. However, the regularity with which the game dropped frames, the effect the low FPS cap had on animations and traversal, and the fact that the frame rate output was so low that the rain looked like it was a gif layered over the actual gameplay. That, I could not overlook.
It wasn’t enough to put me off playing this title, but I wouldn’t judge anyone that saw this as a dealbreaker. In the modern age of gaming that we are currently enjoying, this simply isn’t good enough.
Caledonia, You’re Calling Me
While the visual spectacle was all but ruined by the low performance of this title, nothing of the sort can be said of the soundtrack for this game, which is nothing short of fantastic. The game digs deep into New Caledonia’s rich musical heritage, allowing players to enjoy various performances featuring diverse traditional instruments, with a little help from Tchia and her magical ukelele.
The game even makes use of the chord wheel, arguably made famous by The Last of Us Part II, allowing players to freely play the ukelele at campfires if they so choose. You even have the versatile additions of upward/downward strumming, and picking to allow more musically gifted types to experiment.
Players also get to take part in cinematic rhythm games, which are a little harder than I would have liked from a game with a laid-back vibe such as this, but even still, this was a fun addition that kept my hands busy as I enjoyed the pageantry on-screen.
The biggest compliment I can give this game’s soundtrack is that, even though this game is fully voiced in the native tongue of New Caledonia, French. A language I can’t speak despite my high school’s best attempts to educate me. I had the tunes I played on Tchia’s ukelele replaying in my mind even hours after I returned to reality.
Practically nothing in this game is flawless, but I would go out on a limb and say, if something was to be deemed perfect, it would be the soundtrack.
An Idyllic Island Playground
Moving onto the core gameplay of Tchia, and boy, there is quite a lot to get through here. If I was to sum it up in a few words, it’s a game that takes a lot of notes from Zelda titles like Breath of the Wild and Windwaker, and then strips away all the intense moments in lieu of more slow-paced and relaxing exploration-friendly mechanics. However, that summary is both a disservice and too kind.
Beginning with what the game does well, it’s hard to look past the in-game traversal. Now, this may be controversial, but I loved how the game took away the traditional fast-travel functionality, forcing players to engage with the environment, plan their routes, and truly exist in this world.
The game still does feature fast travel, but only in ten locations, which players will need to visit if they want to teleport to another, hence offering contextual and realistic fast travel. Now, in most games, that would be player-retention suicide. Thankfully though, Tchia’s traversal mechanics are so fun for the most part that you don’t care about the travel times.
Players will be able to soul-jump into various creatures, meaning you can bound as a gazelle, swim as a fish, or soar like a bird to travel long distances. Then even as Tchia, you can scale cliff faces, Slingshot from tree to tree, and glide through the air like a candy wrapper in an updraft. The only criticism would be that the boat controls were a little rigid, but otherwise, this game takes the BOTW blueprint and tweaks enough to make it its own.
Then we move on to the aspects of the game that are a little more unique. Primarily the magical ukelele. As mentioned, Tchia has access to a ukelele that you can play anytime you want, but this isn’t just to hear some sweet melodies. It also makes use of soul melodies. These are powers acquired by completing Cairn-based activities, which allow you to change the time of day at will, and summon creatures that can then be possessed to make tasks much more convenient. This facilitates the slight issue that soul-jumping is only useful when critters are in close proximity. The cooldown times were a bit of an issue in my book, but overall, this was a cool feature.
Bloat Doesn’t Float My Boat
I’m afraid when it comes to gameplay, the praise stops there, because everything else is either somewhat flawed, or a complete failure. Beginning with the less offensive issues, we have pretty much every map marker activity within the game. Now, to clarify, not all of these are poorly implemented or unenjoyable.
In fact, some of these activities are quite cathartic, at least the first couple of times you engage with them. The problem is twofold. One side of the problem is that the game feels bloated to inflate potential playtime. The map feels a little too large for a game that doesn’t offer traditional fast travel, and to fill the space, the developers have packed the map with these activities.
This would be fine if each and every activity rewarded the player for their efforts, and in that lies the second core issue. Some activities/collectibles like the Stamina Fruit and the Cairn challenges genuinely reward the player with quantifiable compensation for their efforts. Whereas all other challenges either offer cosmetic items for your character and her ship, or nothing at all. Thus leading to a lack of incentive to collect 180 Braided Trinkets, or complete a bunch of clunky boat races. You’ll collect plenty passively as you complete the main questline, but when this short story reaches its climax, most players will call it a day.
This is a slight misstep, but it’s nothing compared to the quite frankly abysmal effort of implementing combat into this game. I first questioned whether this relaxing and calming title needed combat at all, but if we must have obligatory combat, you need to make it fun and unencumbering.
Combat and the idea of challenging encounters are at odds with this game’s central theme. To the game’s credit, the combat, which focuses on utilizing the soul-jump feature to hop into flammable objects and burn Maano enemies, is easy to grasp. The problem is that it never feels satisfying or enjoyable.
Issues I could have overlooked were the clunky, prop-hunt-esque controls when possessing inanimate objects and the brain-dead enemy AI. However, the things that I simply can’t forgive are the lack of items you can possess in these combat zones, the cooldown times on the one soul melody that can ease that issue, and the lack of markers to indicate where the remaining enemies in the area are.
In short, the game tries to replicate Farcry’s encampments on a smaller scale, but fails miserably. Good thing the main questline has a huge section focusing on the combat, eh?
Pound Shop Pixar
Then speaking of the main questline, let’s soul-jump to the end of this review by touching on the core premise and narrative featured in Tchia. It’s another aspect of this game that has all the potential to captivate audiences, but due to certain limiting factors, it only manages to shine in patches. The game focuses on Tchia, a small child who lives on a remote island with her father, who is captured by the land’s ruler, Meavora.
Leaving Tchia with the daunting task of sailing off toward to horizon alone in an attempt to find and rescue him. Along the way, Tchia meets the people of the neighboring islands, and through the medium of music, and being generally quite likable, she makes new friends in the process.
The story is quite humourous at times, it deals with slightly more deep and sinister themes than you would expect, and for brief moments, Tchia’s story connects with the player, evoking the odd smirk or gasp. However, holistically speaking, the story feels a little disjointed and poorly paced, with most of the juicy plot points only taking place when the player is two-thirds into the story. The game front-loads with dull, trivial fetch quests, and by the time you connect with the core characters, the game is all but wrapped up.
The biggest issue, however, is the writing. Now, I’m not sure if this was a localization issue, as the game is delivered in French with subtitles of your choosing, but the written content is generic by all accounts. From an authenticity perspective, you cannot fault the game’s dedication to delivering a story that is true to New Caledonia. However, the game ultimately comes across as a Disney/Pixar knock-off with all the composite parts to be a stellar tale, but it seems that those at the helm had no idea how to piece this puzzle together.
Before we wrap up, if you happen to enjoy Tchia, and want to play other games that embrace this game’s emphasis on emergent exploration. Then you might want to check out some of the games I have listed below:
- Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Genshin Impact
- Lost Ember
- Immortals: Fenyx Rising
- Alba: A Wildlife Adventure
- Lil Gator Game
I really wanted to like this game. I really did. Every aspect of this game on paper seems like it would come together cohesively and effectively print money. The authentic setting and traditions of the New Caledonian people, the incredible soundtrack, the picturesque visuals, and the wide variety of gameplay mechanics all shine in spells, doing their part to cloud your judgment. However, if you take a step back to truly take in the full picture, you realize that the game sadly conspires against itself by never truly excelling in any department.
The game’s visuals are beautiful, but are marred by the quite frankly unforgivably low frame rates. The game’s gameplay is rich and varied, with an emphasis on the incredible traversal mechanics. However, the game’s activities often feel unimportant due to the lack of reward or incentive for the player to participate in them.
Soul jumping feels sublime when opportunities arise, but often the resources to do so aren’t in adequate supply. Plus, the game’s story has some interesting themes and moments, but the basic writing ultimately kills any chance of this narrative delivering a well-paced, and gripping story. In short, this plucky indie tries to be everything to everyone, and as a result, every aspect of this game fails to live up to its true potential.
If the world were slightly smaller, that might have helped. If there was less variation in activities and mechanics, perhaps those present would feel less half-baked, and perhaps if the game’s core story sunk its hooks in before the player was more than halfway into proceedings, then maybe the emotive plot points would have a more lasting effect.
It’s easy to say this in hindsight, but one thing is true regardless. In an attempt to excel at everything, Tchia runs the risk of having no lasting legacy at all.
- Tchia does an incredible job representing New Caledonia in an authentic archipelago paradise.
- The soundtrack within this game is sublime and promotes New Caledonia’s musical heritage.
- The in-game traversal feels awesome, taking existing ideas within the industry and offering players a rich blend of options.
- It’s very appreciated that players are given all their abilities right out the gate.
- While visuals often look striking, the 30FPS cap makes it hard to appreciate the tropical setting
- The story within Tchia has its moments, but generally feels like a straight-to-DVD Disney rip-off
- The game’s combat is a hot mess, and is at odds with the easy-breezy vibe
- The game suffers from all the staples of open-world bloat
Question: Is Tchia Playstation Exclusive?
Answer: Tchia is available on PC, so it’s not a complete Playstation exclusive. However, Tchia is a PlayStation console exclusive and was one of the rare examples of a game that was added to the PlayStation Plus Catalog upon release.
Question: Is New Caledonia Real?
Answer: Yes, New Caledonia is an archipelago that is located close to both Australia and New Zealand. It is a French-owned territory and has an approximate population of around 275,000 people.
Question: How Long is Tchia?
Answer: If you only intend to complete the main questline, you could have this game done and dusted in as short as 6-8 hours. However, if you want to take the time to complete all activities, collect all collectibles and find all the animals you can possess, you will probably need to set aside about twenty hours.
Callum played through the main storyline of Tchia, which only took about 8-hours to complete, and then spent a little while longer exploring, completing challenges, and testing the limits of this ambitious island sandbox. He can easily see this being a passive title he will return to now and again to clean up collectibles and catch some rays.
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