TUNIC’s Pacing and Secrets

If you've played Tunic, you'll know that it can be hard to crystallize the experience and explain it to those who haven't. Also, GO PLAY TUNIC NOW. Stop reading this, and go play it. I want to talk a little about my experience with the game and its pacing, but doing so involves major spoilers, so beware! Most of Tunic's "unlocks" are actually the acquisition of knowledge through solving puzzles, so I'm serious about this one.

Tunic's pacing is dramatically affected by its manual, containing a cryptic language and countless hidden secrets. The game's mediocre combat is interspersed with fantastic puzzle-solving, leading to a sinusoidal progression curve where gameplay must periodically stop and give way to consideration, which then exhausts its clues and relinquishes control back to the action gameplay. Traditionally, I would frown upon a game like this interrupting its primary combat loop with frequent "reading in the menus" breaks (take WoW for instance), but Tunic isn't stopping progression, it's simply yielding to a second progression system based on its puzzles.

Fast Travel

Tunic is a "metroidvania" (whatever that term even means anymore), so the world is deceptively linear, with most of it blocked off to a player just starting the game (barring out-of-sight shortcuts, which I'll discuss later). The game does have a fast travel system in addition to its shortcuts, but this system is only "unlocked" after collecting Page 24.

One of the first things the player sees is actually a fast travel point, right in the starting area. Of course, at this point in the game it appears purposeless, as no interaction prompts appear when approaching it. Extremely stubborn players may discover the fast travel method early by recognizing these platforms when they appear and thinking to press and hold the correct input, but I was not among them. The introduction of fast travel is one of the first moments the player is forced to re-evaluate their understanding of Tunic, as it reveals that the game will not be forthcoming with mechanics and concepts that would otherwise be drilled into the player near the beginning as essential knowledge.


Most games like Tunic require some progress into a new area until the player is granted a map, but Tunic takes the opposite approach of giving you a sneak peek into new areas via the manual before you are meant to visit them. This is counteracted by Tunic's maps being filled with cryptic secrets that cannot be fully deciphered when they are first acquired. Take the Page 28 map, for instance, with its pen drawings of a music note and a door, which are completely meaningless to a new player, or the Page 34 map featuring illustrations of creatures that appear in corrupted forms in the actual level.

While most of the maps give you a complete picture of the layout of the area they depict (obviously lacking certain details and shortcuts), the Page 41 map plays a trick on the player by turning this concept on its head. Introduced later in the game after the player has unlocked the ability to fast travel by learning the required technique from Page 24, Page 41 depicts the fast travel hub and all its destinations, except one. Looking at the bottom right of the page you can make out the outline of another destination (fully shown on Page 42, collected later), which can be reached in the game by spamming the teleport dodge across a series of broken platforms floating out of view.

The player is prompted to discover this secret later by Page 23 while they are on the journey to restore their body. For each shrine they need to visit, the player is shown a snippet of a map from the area where the shrine is located. The ATT shrine, however, shows a symbol on Page 42, which the player does not yet have. Instead of being able to match the exact image fragment, the player must instead match the STYLE of the symbol and its context to discover the secret location not shown on Page 41.


Not included on Tunic's maps are shortcuts hidden by perspective tricks. Most notable is the shortcut from the Sealed Temple entrance to the Quarry, which is invisible from the Sealed Temple side but obvious from the Quarry side. This serves as an alternative means of transportation instead of Fast Travel, but also a tantalizing lure once one is first discovered. Like illusory walls in Dark Souls, these secret paths had me probing every corner I came across in hopes of finding treasure or a time-saving shortcut back to an earlier area.

Again, with Tunic, simplicity is key. It hides most of its secrets in plain sight, rewarding the player for simply paying attention and taking time to digest what you're experiencing. As such, it puts a cap on progression, both in traversal gameplay and puzzle-solving, while spacing rewards like these frequently enough to not make the game feel like a crawl.

The Golden Path

if you're still reading
and you have not played Tunic,
please stop this madness

Tunic's penultimate undertaking (prior to collecting all of the trophies and excluding the translation of Trunic and Tuneic) is found in the Golden Path. It's the last puzzle required to collect Page 1 and complete the manual, unlocking the true ending. Discovering the Golden Path is one of my favorite moments in a game, and I plan to keep my MS paint sketch of the path as a precious memento of that experience.

Most puzzle games excel near their end, but struggle to really bring a finality to the experience. The "puzzle gauntlet" approach as seen in The Witness and The Talos Principle, focuses on extreme difficulty or a time trial to test the player. The "boss fight" approach seen in Portal instead feels gimmicky and underwhelming from a puzzle standpoint, being held aloft only by a narrative finality that can fail to impress on repeat playings and cause the entire ending to collapse if not well executed.

Tunic, of course, ends its combat progression with the boss fight against the Heir, but has an entirely separate true ending as a finale for its puzzle solving. Spanning 25 pages, the Golden Path is the perfect finale to the puzzle-solving half of Tunic's progression, bringing together almost half of the manual's pages in a massive meta-puzzle. The Golden Path is a simple puzzle in execution, requiring only tracing a line and entering directional inputs in front of a door, but the act of discovery is where the true magic happens.

Starting when the player collects Page 49, the Golden Path is incredibly enigmatic at first blush. Most players will probably realize the numbers correspond to pages of the manual, but not how they connect or how to place them on the grid. Page 44 does show us that this is, indeed, the Golden Path, but page 46 actually gives us a clue on how to solve it.

Use the power of the Holy Cross and traverse the Golden Path

The Holy Cross is the method of opening doors using directional inputs, named directly on Pages 43 and 44 where the mechanic is first "unlocked." Page 46 is also the most obvious element of the golden path, appearing unobscured in a prominent place. From learning the connection between the Golden Path and the Holy Cross, players may soon discover a hidden golden line on one of the other pages (34 is particularly obvious), and start piecing together the grand puzzle.

Tunic frequently has the player search for minutiae amongst its pages, so discovering elements that the player did not even realize to look for in the past is a wonderful way to close the game. Endings often benefit from a look back at the journey behind you, and exploring the manual anew is a fantastic way to connect a narrative and emotional closure with a ludic one. A frantic boss fight against the Heir yields to a slow and composed search for pieces of the Golden Path, gracefully bringing the game to a close.

Editor's note: I didn't talk about Trunic and Tuneic as the former was out of my league somewhat as a puzzle-solver, so I relied on community help to translate the manual. Tuneic is so far outside the realm of the rest of the game's puzzles that, even if you did finish the game, statistically you probably didn't even realize it existed.

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