Tchia is a love letter to the island of New Caledonia.
Developer Awaceb’s passion is evident throughout this cutesy, satisfying adventure, complete with lovingly crafted villages, plenty of island locations to explore, and a bevy of native plants and animals. Its cell-shaded style and green glider bring The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to mind, but Tchia does a good job of forging something new, even as it pays homage to its many inspirations.
And there are a number of inspirations. Players will find echoes of several familiar titles littered throughout Tchia‘s colorful world — as they play the ukulele similarly to The Last of Us’ Ellie, float over treetops on the aforementioned glider, and recall the laid-back, relaxed vibe of games like Animal Crossing.
Tchia is a thoroughly casual game, intended for those easygoing, stress-reducing gaming sessions. It won’t present any challenging combat, and very few risks exist around the world, but its robust exploration system, along with an array of NPCs and “possessables” — (more on those later) — keep things plenty interesting. Be warned, however—Tchia is a relaxation game, but you can still die and be returned to your last campfire, which serve as Tchia’s save points.
In Tchia’s New Caledonia, every animal (and many inanimate objects) can be possessed by the player. Most of the things you can possess grant abilities of varying usefulness. Some animals, like chickens, create tools for the player to use. They can also lay eggs that turn into bombs, which can be used in combat. There are plenty of animals to “jump into,” and nearly all of them on the island have their uses. The player can even carry some of these animals around, just in case they need to pinch an NPC as a crab.
Then there’s the movement system, which makes exploring and navigating incredibly satisfying, once you get the hang of it that is. A combination of creature possession, hurling the eponymous heroine from treetops to “fall with style,” and sliding down mountains like a lubed-up wrestler down a slip and slide makes travel easy. The ability to possess creatures is a big help, but as you add in more elements, you’ll be able to move quickly across the island.
The only real roadblock is the boat. A thoroughly customizable raft is a nice addition and presents an alternate form of travel, but it’s far less fluid and enjoyable than the other forms of transportation. On an island nation, boats are a clear necessity, as Tchia can’t possess — or “soul jump” — creatures for very long, which leaves the player no choice but to slog along on their slightly clumsy raft. With such delightful movement when traversing on land, the boat play feels rather subpar in comparison.
Tchia is very much a “collectathon,” so having fluid, well-designed movement helps keep things interesting as you dive through reefs and climb up mountains. On some of the map’s highest points, there are locations where a “shout” will unveil key locations (similar to Assassins Creed’s viewpoints), and the emphasis on exploration and collection allows players to soak up the carefully-crafted world.
For the direction impaired, the lack of a player icon on the map could prove problematic, but Tchia will inform the player of basic locations if they ask, and pins appear on the directional compass, so the learning curve isn’t insurmountable. Minigames and challenges are scattered across the islands, allowing players to delve into dungeons and discover plenty of distractions and side content. Though they toe the line of tedium, these games are still fun, particularly for those looking for an unobtrusive experience.
Tchia’s ukulele, and by extension, all of the in-game music, is one of its biggest selling points. The instrument, which seemed a bit gimmicky at first, proves broadly useful. First introduced in a musical cut scene, players might initially find themselves frustrated by the challenge presented by the instrument. It’s impossible to play — particularly given the first song’s speed — and read subtitles at the same time, but the inclusion of a “bystander” option allows overwhelmed players to step back and merely enjoy the show. As you progress, these musical segments will feel far less daunting — players will gradually get the hang of it, and the catchy music featured in minigames and cutscenes will draw you in. Later on, the ukulele’s uses will expand, allowing players to summon objects or animals, help Tchia change the time of day, or cross difficult terrain.
They say to pitch passion instead of projects, and I get the feeling that’s how this game came into existence. Every piece of Tchia reads as a love letter, and the team tried their hardest — and largely succeeded — in bringing New Caledonia to life. Tchia has its faults, but many of the minor hiccups present in our preview build will likely be buffed out come launch day. The animations are well done, the music is catchy, the sound design is satisfying, and the core mechanics are streamlined and effective. More than anything, the team’s clear devotion seeps through many of the game’s details, from its creatures and plants to the informative NPCs scattered throughout the map.
For anyone looking for something intense to sink their teeth into, look elsewhere, but for someone who just wants a casual, no-fuss adventure, Tchia delivers beautifully.
Tchia is set to release in early 2023 for the PlayStation 4 and 5, as well as PC via the Epic Games store.
This preview is based on hands-on time with a pre-release, PC build of the game. A copy was provided to us by Awaceb.