Since its reveal back in 2020, Awaceb's tropical adventure title Tchia has existed comfortably in the niche of being a Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild clone. Its art style and gameplay hook of possessing animals and objects were novel to be sure, but it was still hard to see how it would fully set itself apart from its key inspiration and the imitators that followed it. After getting the chance to see the game in action though, I've been convinced that Tchia has plenty enough to bring to the table; so much so that it's now one of my most anticipated upcoming titles.
In a demo led by the game's director and Awaceb co-founder Phil Crifo, the gameplay elements players can expect from a typical play session were explored in detail. It kicks off with Tchia, the game's titular protagonist, waking up after a night-long celebration with some of the island setting's residents. She tries to find her friend Louise, but discovers that she has gone off to gather the necessary materials for a traditional ceremony. She is then tasked with going to the last place Louise was seen, setting a marker based on where people believe she was last.
The art style is one that is both eye-catching and unique and has been a key strength of the game since it was first revealed. In motion though, it's all the more beautiful. The art style comes off as a mix of smooth 3D animation and painted art, shining through even as players wander around the world. This blends nicely with the relaxing ambiance provided by the sound design and music, which both illicit the mood and feel of wandering an idyllic tropical locale.
From there, the player has a plethora of options for how they can reach this destination. In addition to being able to walk or run along the island's paths and roads, Tchia can also swim, glide through the air, or cling to and climb on any surface in the game. This allows her to scale mountains, swim across bodies of water, and otherwise wander with ease, and provides a much more three-dimensional approach to exploration and travel.
However, one has to take into account that almost every traversal option requires the use of stamina. Should Tchia's stamina run out while she's carrying out one of these actions, she'll need to stop and rest before continuing. Fortunately, there are also vehicles like boats that can allow one to travel across bodies of water or other parts of the island with minimal hassle, further expanding on the choice available to players during exploration.
Like in Breath of the Wild though, the true fun of the game comes from interacting with the world's physics in a variety of ways. Many of these tie into Tchia's Soul Melodies. Using her ukelele, she can play magical songs that spawn items and create new ways to interact with the world. Case in point: Tchia can plant banana trees that instantly grow to full size. She can then rock them back and forth before using the momentum to launch her a great distance, gliding down to safety via some cloth should she reach too high of a point along her trajectory.
There are also a ton of animals that call the island home, and which Tchia can interact with in order to impact the environment or give her more traversal options. This in turn ties into one of Tchia's core gameplay mechanics and is where the game truly shines. After a certain point in the game, Tchia can gain the ability to possess animals with her soul, taking control of them and moving them as she - and the player - sees fit. This ability can be used whenever the player wishes so long as they have enough Soul, which is replenished by eating food found throughout the island setting.
Crifo displayed how Soul Possession could be used several times during the demo too: At one point, he possessed a bird to get up to a high point that would have been difficult to reach while Tchia was still human. During a different section, he possessed a Dolphin swimming in the water, swam toward a bird flying along the water's surface, exited the Dolphin Soul Possession, and then possessed the bird in rapid succession. This is something that can be easily replicated too, so long as players stay aware of their Soul energy.
This was easily one of the most impressive mechanics on display, and a big part of why Tchia impressed me so much. The idea of possessing an animal one comes across to fly high into the sky, or to traverse a long stretch of ocean, is already a great addition to the open world framework currently used by several titles on the market. Being able to rapidly swap between animals though - and in a location so flush with different wildlife - is far more exciting than any other gameplay twist offered up in recent memory. It's interesting, creative, and, most importantly, fun.
As he made his way closer to Louise's location, Crifo also showed off some of the game's other mechanics and features. Like other open-world titles, Tchia has a day and night cycle which impacts what players can find throughout the world. Fortunately, players can alter what time of day they're exploring in by resting at campfires dotted throughout the world.
These campfires can also be used to customize Tchia's appearance. This includes her clothing and hairstyle, which both have a wide variety of options to choose from. New options can be obtained through a variety of means too, meaning players will be able to customize their own version of Tchia as they see fit.
Crifo also encountered some Cloth Soldiers, which act as the primary enemies in the game. Brought to life by the magic of the game's central antagonist, these fabric foes need to be burned to be eliminated completely. Fortunately, the game offers plenty of ways to do this. One can lob lit oil lanterns at them, or tip over flaming objects nearby to start a fire that will ensnare the cloth soldiers in its ensuing blaze.
This is easier said than done though, as the Soldiers will constantly be pursuing Tchia. One will need to keep her safe by running around or Soul Possessing whatever they can to keep their distance until an opportunity to defeat her pursuers presents itself.
Though admittedly at odds with the calmer elements of the game, this conflict doesn't break one out of the immersion the game provides. It still feels like a natural part of the world, and had me wondering how it would play into the larger narrative that is sure to run throughout the game at large.
The demo concluded with Crifo finding Louise overlooking the island landscape. She and Tchia then shared a moment together where Louise sang a song while Tchia played along on her ukulele. This triggered a rhythm game-esque segment where Crifo had to hit notes as they appeared to play them and keep the song going. Though they started off slow, the prompts began to appear with more frequency as the song progressed, showing players will be kept engaged even during more quiet and contemplative moments. However, they never felt frantic enough to take away from the serene moment that put the game's beauty on full display.
This was another moment that had me far more interested in Tchia than I'd been previously. While it's great that the game has so many traversal and exploration options in addition to every other gameplay element, the fact that it knows when to slow down and allow players to take in its beauty is a huge plus.
Though it may still be too similar to Breath of the Wild for some people's liking, Tchia proved to me that it is its own entity through and through. I'll be eagerly awaiting the chance to get my hands on the finished product in 2023, and most any gamer who enjoys open world experiences should do the same.
TechRaptor previewed Tchia in a hands-off capacity via a digital showcase hosted by Kepler Interactive. The game's full release is currently slated for 2023.