A friend once said that the best way to have fun in an open world game – the best way to see if an open world game would be fun at all – was to pick the first story marker and head in the absolute opposite direction as fast as possible .
- Publisher: Awaceb, Kepler Interactive
- Developer: Awaceb
- Platform: Played on PC
- Availability: Out on PC, PS4 and PS5 in 2023
From the cave in Skyrim? Go where the game doesn’t tell you to go. Boot into Just Cause? Ignore that first invitation to talk to a resistance leader. Are you coming from the slope in Crackdown? In fact, Crackdown never really tells you what to do. Point made.
I’ve been following this advice while playing a demo version of Tchia for the past few days. Here’s the point, though: I didn’t follow it on purpose. Reader, I was forced to. Tchia is an open-world game set in a sun-drenched archipelago inspired by New Caledonia in the Southwest Pacific. You play as a kid as you explore and snoop around the islands, and I’m pretty sure there’s a bit of story in the build I played – a quest that might lead to another quest, a cutscene, a gradual introduction of the powers at my disposal.
But you know what? The weather was so nice, the island soil beneath my feet so inviting, I ignored all that and wandered around. I chose a direction and went out. As such, I know very little about what Tchia is trying to tell the players for the first few hours, I suspect. But I also feel like I know a deep truth about Tchia: It’s absolutely delightful – vibrant and characterful and compelling and generous – and when it comes out later this year, a lot of people will fall for it.
Traversal is an early pleasure. Tchia takes Breath of the Wild’s stamina system and uses its prominence to create a bunch of fancy new elements. If you have stamina, you can run and swim and climb almost any surface and slide down from the sky. Zelda’s dive bombing still works too, where you plummet down and then open the parachute low to bring your stamina closer to the ground, where it will save your life. HALO jump or butter over too much toast? (So much of Breath of the Wild’s magic comes down to its unfortunate butter-to-toast ratio.) Never mind — it still works.
But Tchia then adds things. The first of these are bendable trees. Climb a tree and you will start bending it. You can ping it back and forth and then launch yourself to get a lot of air. It’s Zelda but opened up with a touch of Mario, and it means you get the stamina system but with extra range. Throw yourself! You can cover so much territory this way, from one treetop to the next. Magic.
Tchia’s skyboxes are very nice.
Then there’s a system that lets you inhabit another creature or item for a while, as long as, you guessed it, a stamina meter dictates. This means I can be at the bottom of a cliff and suddenly own a nearby bird and dive to the top, with the option to shit on people if I want to. I can take a rock on top of the top and embody it to roll all the way back down the hill into the sea. I can float in the sea and embody a shark, to give me a real speed beam.
This stuff, along with stuff I’m sure I haven’t discovered yet, interacts with things like a raft I can steer to cross large bodies of water and a musical instrument I can play for certain effects. There are many things I can choose to do or not to do in Tchia. But crucially, it all really seems to fit into the landscape, with this sleek, New Caledonia-inspired archipelago bringing Tchia a lot of fun.
Time and time again I am amazed at its size. I guess I’ve been conditioned by A Short Hike and the like to expect fairly small, compact open-world places in a game like this, albeit ones that are packed with things to do. Tchia has plenty of things to do, but it also has space – the rogue, wandering wide-open spaces that make Crackdown so much fun. Space in which nothing is planned, so what do you want to do?
Over the past few days I’ve taken endless hikes, climbed mountains and worked my way down their twisting spines. Some of the best times I’ve had were just watching the time of day change as I spend time alone – the cure for loneliness is loneliness and all.
This is not to say that Tchia is empty. It’s just that it knows the value, I think, of having a little bit of emptiness in the right place to make something feel real. Beyond this, there is already a rich involvement with the island’s cultures, right down to the music and food. There are fun little baddie encampments to wash out, Zelda-style, and there are doodads to collect and people to meet. Last night I found a treasure map – I can’t remember where – and followed the clues to a rock in the sea where something brilliant was hidden, along with another treasure map, suggesting that the fun only continues.
I think Tchia will be very special then. Traversal, a rich sense of place and an ease about what you do and in what order you do it. I can not wait.
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