Review: Tchia – The Darling Is In The Details

The open world formula is a funny thing. We’ve had more formulaic rehashes of it than we can count, and even a couple reinventions of the entire concept. In every iteration, developers have focused on the world as a whole. How it works, how it absorbs the player into doing as much as humanly possible. The bigger picture, as it were. What happens, then, when a team chooses to hone in on the little things? To paint not one, massive enticing picture, but a bunch of cute little ones that you can enjoy piecemeal? Well, you get Tchia.

From developer Awaceb, Tchia is an open world stroll through the garden. That’s not me being clever or trying to invent yet another subgenre. That’s simply what Tchia is. The typical trappings of the open world are here, of course. Activating a high up point with T’chia’s signature shout will immediately populate your map with all manner of markers. There are camps to clear, minigames to mess around with, and collectibles to… collect. Yet, none of these things are the point here.

They see me rollin’…

In their delightful debut, Awaceb implores the player to simply stop and smell the roses. Tchia’s narrative framework is literally a story within a story. In the opening scene, children gather around a campfire as an elder tells them the tale of a brave young adventurer from their tribe. In its very premise, Tchia is relaxing. Even though T’chia’s tale is about her trying to rescue her kidnapped father, everything about the atmosphere denies any sense of urgency. The vibe is calm, and immediately endearing.

Alright, not entirely calm. Tchia’s main story opens with the titular protagonist bonding with her father on her birthday. T’chia shoots up a storm with her new slingshot, cooks some tasty food, and receives her glider as her final present. All the while, our heterochromatic heroine ponders her consistent melancholy. For some reason, she’s always a bit down this time of year. Just as we start to think about the narrative implications here, T’chia’s father is kidnapped by Pwi Dua, a henchman of the evil Meavora. And so, our quest to get dear old dad back begins.

The locals are nice and friendly.

To do so, T’chia navigates the islands of Ija Noj and Madra Noj. The slingshot and glider come in handy, but not as often as you might think. Shooting controls well and feels fun to do, but rarely ever needs to be used. Gliding consumes stamina way too fast, even after a few upgrades to your meter. Though spectacular at moments, Tchia’s glider fails to capture the awe some obvious competitors do. Fortunately, there are plenty of activities to add to the fun.

Ija Noj is where you’ll spend most of your time. The lush island has a lot to do, and can be explored entirely at your own pace. Venture into a cave or two and find a rock balancing challenge. With a fixed point of view, these puzzles test your depth perception just as much as your stacking skills. They get a bit repetitive, but are fun to do from time to time. The same cannot be said of the race challenges, which let you flex your boat maneuvers. They’re a creative way to explore more of the island, to be sure. More often than not, however, the daring dinghy you ride on (I know it’s a raft, let me be) is forced into tighter spaces than it is suited for.

This camera is nicer than my phone’s…

The crown jewel in Tchia’s pack of pastimes is far and away the Totem Shrines. To activate them, players must carve matching wooden totems at nearby carving stations. These are fun little craft projects, whose simple mechanics do not stop them from being satisfying to pull off. Totem in hand, T’chia can then place them before the shrine door and enter. What follows is one of a number of brilliant gauntlets, each showcasing the mechanics to their full potential. One shrine has you shooting fireflies out of the sky; another has you inhabiting a dragon to zoom through hoops; yet another is a joyous platforming trial, with jumps galore as you dodge the laser eyes of a giant totem. Each time, you’re moving to the best of T’chia’s ability, and it feels phenomenal.

You can also bust out your ukulele at any time, and that’s just neat.

More “Breath of the Mild,” this one.

Less neat is how the story progresses. Every story quest in Tchia is a fetch quest. Every last one. T’chia will meet a group of people, need to consult with the important one, then run along to gather the materials for an offering that will grant her an audience. This same framework is used throughout. You may stumble upon a combat encounter every so often, but they’re never part of the plot till the very end.

The combat is at least unique, focusing more on evasion and Soul Jumping (which we’ll get to later) to take over objects and fling them at foes, rather than directly attacking them with your slingshot. There’s momentum to each affair—at least in theory. In practice, both encounter design and frame rate hold combat back. Basic camps are laughably small, with Maano soldiers and their fabric spawn points practically placed right next to each other. Lategame camps in the story are a bit too large, with enemy spawn points hard to find. Taking these out first is best, even with the Maano’s far-from-threatening AI. Without clearer tells for the spawns, however, these larger camps feel slow to traipse around, even with Soul Jumping. All the while, moving a little too fast caused me more than one dip in frames, grinding enjoyment to a halt.

Once I get my hands on a lantern, it’s a wrap.

Therein lies the biggest problem with Tchia. In being light and mostly consequence-free, many parts of the game just feel too slow. Camps get dull, story quests do little to motivate, and actually getting around the island can be a chore with T’chia by herself.

What this means, however, is that the player will have to find creative ways to get around. This is where the Soul Jumping mechanic truly shines. With it, T’chia can take over all sorts of objects, both inanimate and living. Animals are the star of this power, as they cut travel time almost in half. Deer sprint, birds fly, and coconuts coconut. Getting across Ija Noj becomes a breeze with just a tap of a button.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane! …Nope, definitely a bird.

This expanded movement is a blessing. Not only is it fun, it helps Tchia regain some of its pace, as moving around the islands is most of what you’ll be doing. As you do, the game’s biggest strength makes its presence known. The usual open world elements are middling, but the little details sprinkled throughout are a joy to discover. Whenever you refuel your Soul meter with a hearty meal, T’chia will lift her plate to reveal the name of the dish she’s snacking on. The soundtrack will swell in key moments, but also subside to leave only the natural soundscape as you explore. Completing a Totem gauntlet results in a fun spin on the main theme. Even the story has one small standout thing: wild tonal shifts, tossed in for fun here and there. T’chia opens with warm familial scenes and folksy music that sounds like a warm hug. Barely a scene later, T’chia Soul Jumps into Pwi Dua’s machete and slashes his face. This is not the only swerve of its kind.

That ebb and flow between something great and something just fine defines Tchia throughout its runtime. There’s fun to be had, and small things here and there will definitely make you smile. At the same time, even with greater additions later on, many of the story missions drag. The joy, then, lies in the moment-to-moment. Flinging yourself from tree canopies then possessing a bird mid-air to drop in on unsuspecting fabric foes is an experience like no other. It’s one I will remember, even when the rest glides away with time.

Sneak up on the crab. Love the crab. Become the crab.

And then falls from the sky after it runs out of stamina.

Sarim played Tchia on PC via the Epic Games Store, with a code provided by the publisher. Tchia is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC via the Epic Games Store, with a planned future release on Steam.

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