There are almost 200 countries on Earth, yet we often see games take place in the same handful of them. And with game development spreading to more places around the world, there are more opportunities than ever to get small digital peeks into some of those territories. Tchia is one such game, as it is an open-world exploration-focused title heavily inspired by New Caledonian culture. And even though it seems a little on the thin side, its Oceanic setting and charm pick up that slack.
Tchia’s open world can be likened to others in the genre at a glance with its vast mountain ranges, lush greenery, and array of wild animals. Its stylized art direction works in tandem with these brighter colors to create a pleasant location that invites players to explore. There are very likely no poison swamps or volatile volcanoes like Death Mountain in Tchia.
And even though it probably lacks areas like Breath of the Wild’s aforementioned fiery zone, Tchia does have some elements in common with that pivotal 2017 game. Tchia, the titular protagonist, can glide around and climb, both of which are dictated by a round stamina meter. Collecting special fruits extends this meter, allowing for longer hikes and flights.
Movement is quite smooth since, despite being a small child, Tchia can jump rather high and get around like most other capable video game protagonists. She can also clamber up tall trees and comically use them as springboards to boost off into the air, which is quite exhilarating.
Her Soul Jumping ability gives her a bit of an edge, as it allows her to quickly inhabit any object or animal around the island. Taking over a bird lets Tchia fly around and poop on command, while possessing a deer makes land traversal much faster. Soul Jumping into objects is silly, but can also be utilized for movement purposes, as the violent separation causes Tchia to shoot into the air; a function that can also be used during combat to attack its cloth-like monsters.
Since Soul Jumping is dictated by a different meter, the game seems built for players to go from gliding to commanding birds in order to get around quickly. Such a loop sounds like an engaging way to make movement more involved, but it doesn’t appear like Tchia is set up like that.
Animals aren’t that prevalent, which means players seemingly don’t always have ways to continue chaining targets. This hampers the combo potential and means getting around the old fashioned way is going to be more common than going around via, say, pig or deer. It’s a little disappointing, but perhaps spending more time with its systems and later upgrades unlocks more of its potential. It is possible to store animals in Tchia’s backpack to Soul Jump to in a pinch and those with fast reflexes can Soul Jump to a catapulted object to cover even more ground, so there is seemingly more at play here.
Having fewer than expected animals is part of a bigger problem with its open world since it is a little on the empty side. Trinkets (a type of currency), chests, and stamina-boosting fruit litter the island, but those small rewards seem to be the most common items spread across its landscape. These doodads are fine and act as incentives for checking out the island, but aren’t that exciting and a little at odds with how it seems to want players to naturally explore.
There’s no mini-map and only a vague compass points players to their objective, which itself can be easily toggled on and off by pressing in the right stick. As shown in games like Ghost of Tsushima, having players live in the world instead of constantly staring at the heads-up display is more immersive and something the medium should embrace. And while still appreciated here, it’s odd when this forward-looking approach is paired with its collection of predictable and standard items.
There are other mini-games to find like races, shooting galleries, and totem carving stations (which are used to open totem shrines), but the balance doesn’t seem all the way there. It’s better to not have an Assassin’s Creed Valhalla level of bloat, but there should also be more compelling reasons to poke around. Hopefully, the full experience has a more appropriate split and gives players more of a reason search its many reefs and rock formations.
And even if the world seems like it could be a little physically barren, it is not culturally barren. Tchia’s New Caledonian roots are present in just about all of its tropical corners and they are a delight to witness. Characters speak French and Drehu and the food they eat and clothes they wear (some of which Tchia can dress up in) all reflect the region and give it a unique soul. Local talent also provided the music, which plays into the gameplay since Tchia can strum certain notes on her ukulele to alter the game’s world. Out of respect for New Caledonia’s traditions, it’s not literally New Caledonia, but it seems close enough and this inspiration provides a welcome bit of virtual tourism to a place most people will never visit.
Absorbing Tchia’s world is the most promising part of the experience, even if some of that comes with a caveat. But it’s possible its open world will be able to more fully blossom when out of the context of a small demo. But even if its sandbox underwhelms, Tchia still has a charming style and is much cheaper than a ticket to New Caledonia.