Is anyone else surprised that the adventure game renaissance has lasted this long? The history of the genre has always been defined by the word “demand,” and while the last decade has proven that the demand is still there, the same patterns of the 90s are being played out today. The market is once again oversaturated, and with the exception of one-time superstar The Walking Dead, none of the titles seem to be evolving. They seem to begin and end with the same bullet points every time. The latest in this parade of aimless revivalists is TSIOQUE (pronounced somewhere between “Tyock” and “Chalk”).
Press for this game has been almost entirely devoted to its visuals and animation. Not because they’re especially strong – they’re good, but they’re not that good – but because what else are they going to advertise? “Use items on the environment in order to create illogical strings of progress” isn’t exactly a killer tagline. Even the extremely minor gimmick of rhyming narration was already claimed by Child of Light. Subjectively, I can say it’s a very endearing game, featuring enjoyably goofy characters while not shying away from the creepy or malevolent. I found myself quickly attached to Tsioque herself, partly due to her in-story ingenuity, and partly due to her adorably apparent frustration at the quibbles of being a point-and-click protagonist.
The real reason to play is buried in the official description: “Story with a twist.” For those thinking that the story of a princess escaping from an evil wizard doesn’t sound like a narrative revolution, TSIOQUE has quite the final act in store for you. It’s not the multilayered genius of something like Undertale, but it’s also not the cheap reveal one might initially suspect. I actually wish the story was longer so that more of the newfound gameplay potential could be explored. However, the genuinely meaningful and unexpected conclusion may be worth its abrupt arrival.
Prior to the shift in perception (and even a little bit during it), however, players will have to push through some pretty dreary gameplay. While the absence of item-combination puzzles makes the logic of some solutions easier to swallow, Tsioque’s mostly silent nature prevents her from giving out clues that would have made others more palatable. Additionally, the vaunted animation is often laborious and unskippable, which becomes tiresome when moving between rooms trying to figure out what to do. Several scenarios also have little issues that should have been ironed out of a game this short, from conflicting visual hints to the unannounced introduction of reflex-based events.
I could see this game developing a cult following on the strength of its narrative alone. But while it certainly makes for a mature and memorable fairy tale, I don’t think the thematic shift is fascinatingly extreme enough to demand a purchase. Those already dedicated to this genre will get the most out of TSIOQUE, simply because they’re likely already numb to the standard problems associated with it.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A review copy was provided by OhNoo Studio.
There's more to TSIOQUE than meets the eye, but not enough to make the pedestrian gameplay worthwhile.