Video games, unfairly simplified, all present a series of virtual tasks that must be performed for progress, and the player must decide if they enjoy doing those tasks. In some ways, Tchia eschews the idea of making you do anything by offering an open, exploration-based game filled with activities where, in nearly every case, completing them is optional. Don’t want to play the rhythm game that accompanies cutscenes? Just press the left control stick to make it auto-play. Don’t want to do the rock stacking minigame? Move along. Don’t feel like taking your boat? Soul-jump into a bird and just fly to your destination. Want to skip this entire gameplay section? There’s an option in the menu to do just that. If, however, you do want to engage in what Tchia has to offer, there is a unique package wrapped up with some well-executed gameplay mechanics that are fun to do throughout the entirety of the relatively short but fulfilling experience.
Tchia begins with a note from the developer outlining exactly what it is trying to do, and it does a great job setting up the world and tone of the experience. You explore a magical, fictionalized archipelago heavily inspired by New Caledonia and its traditions. The story follows the titular Tchia and the adventure to save her kidnapped father. The character design is reminiscent of an animated children’s TV show, but the movement, especially small detailed animations like close-ups of hands, are fantastic. The aesthetic also betrays what is, at times, a surprisingly dark tone. The big bad, Meavora, is introduced in such a dark and comically evil way that I both gasped and laughed out loud. Surprising violence occurs, and inappropriate jokes are told, all in contrast to the childlike visuals, and it quickly made me a fan.
Overall, the story is a highlight with fun characters, surprising twists, and a satisfying conclusion, but it makes up an ultimately small part of the game. Most of your time in Tchia is spent turning into different animals to explore the island and find fun in every corner. Tchia can climb every surface and uses a paraglider like Link in Breath of the Wild, and it feels great. Climbing a tree, leaping from the top, and opening your paraglider to land safely on the ground is always fun, and when that isn’t moving you fast enough, Tchia’s ability to Soul-jump into animals and objects makes moving even better.
Tchia can slow time and leap into every animal in the game, as well as nearly every inanimate object. Some are pointless but novel, like the lizards, but others are extremely useful, like the assorted deer on the island that allow you to sprint at high speeds. The best and my most frequently used transformation, however, are the birds. Leaping into a bird, flying to my destination, returning to human form, and paragliding to safety is an action I repeated often and never grew tired of.
Combat does not exist in the traditional sense. Tchia cannot throw a punch, but she can toss flammable objects at cloth enemies in an explosive display. As is the case with most activities in the game, fighting like this is optional, but I was compelled to do it to the point of exhaustion. It was the one instance where I did grow tired of the mechanic after its initial luster wore off.
I also encountered a few distracting, but thankfully not game-breaking, bugs where cutscene elements wouldn’t load properly, leading to characters acting out events in awkward or blank spaces. It was never a major problem, but it did break the immersion whenever it popped up.
Tchia drips with joyful, explorative fun. The idea of letting players loose in an interactive sandbox is a goal that has been chased by developers since video games began. Few truly give you the freedom to frolic in a virtual playground, and though Tchia is not without its shortcomings, it’s a rare instance where the temptation to just play in the digital world is rewarding at just about every turn. The tone, the music, and Tchia’s abilities all come together to create something that is simply fun, and it all takes place in a setting that demands to be explored.