What is it? A third-person open world action adventure set on a tropical archipelago
Expect to pay: $30/£25
Publisher: Kepler Interactive
Reviewed on: RTX 2080, Intel i7-9700K, 16GB RAM
Link: Official site
How can I convince you to play Tchia? By telling you it has a lush, startling beauty comparable to Sea of Thieves and a more satisfying treasure map sidequest than Red Dead Redemption 2? How about the open world exploration and stronghold invasions of Far Cry 3 but with Breath of the Wild's glider and a protagonist you'll actually love? Maybe by telling you the world is full of collectibles and trophies and highly original minigames that all serve a real purpose besides simply making a number on a menu screen go up?
Tell you what: I'll even throw in one of the most enjoyable in-game cameras and photo modes I've ever seen, plus a ukulele that can be used to summon creatures, change the weather and time of day, and, oh yeah, play real music. Do we have a deal?
I love Tchia. I completed the main story quest in 12 hours, but I've played for twice as long just to explore more, complete challenges, collect cosmetics, find secrets, add to my encyclopedia of wildlife, and take photos. At least four of those hours were spent just following a long series of treasure maps filled with hand-drawn landmarks and other clues, testing my detective skills and knowledge of the world to uncover them all. And I'm not done yet, not by a long shot.
Tchia is a little kid living on an archipelago based on the real world South Pacific island of New Caledonia. While beautiful and tropical, Tchia's island is no paradise. An evil overlord named Meavora has filled the island with creepy, golem-like foot soldiers made of fabric, and a vicious henchman has abducted Tchia's father. Tchia sets out to free her dad with the help of her newly-discovered power to "soul-jump" into animals and inanimate objects and possess them.
For as long as her soul meter is filled, Tchia can control the things she possesses, creatures like birds and dolphins and crabs and objects like oil drums, rocks, and coconuts. When I need to cross the island quickly, I target a bird, soul-jump into it, and then I am the bird. I flap my wings and glide through the air over the continent. When I've arrived at my destination (or my soul meter runs out), I pop out of the bird and I'm Tchia again.
The more I do it the more fun it becomes. I can chain my soul-jumps, going from racing through the offshore waves toward the beach as a dolphin, then ejecting myself from the water and possessing a passing seagull to take flight before my feet hit the sand. I've been a deer that can thunder across the island much faster than any human, I've been dogs (they're useful to possess when I need to dig something up) and chickens (I can lay an egg, turn back into myself, and pop the egg in my backpack), and even a cow—you can make them poop out explosive turds, good for blowing things up.
Soul-jumping is useful in a crisis. Once I was climbing a cliff, ran out of stamina, and fell. Just before I hit the ground I threw my soul into a rock sitting in the grass I was plunging toward. No need to worry about a safe landing when I can essentially teleport to the ground.
And it's not just useful for travel, collecting items, and avoiding a fall. At one point while exploring I found a small opening in the side of a cliff, too small to fit through even when crouching. I suddenly remembered I had a crab in my backpack, so I plucked it out, soul-jumped into it, and scuttled sideways through the opening. Once inside I exited the crab and opened a hidden chest. The crab, unfortunately, had skittered away and vanished, and I thought for a moment I was now trapped in this little cave. But there were some small rocks on the ground, so I jumped into one and rolled back out through the gap. Infiltration and exfiltration are a snap when you can possess almost everything you can see.
Tchia is a kinetic and capable traveler even when she's not using magic. She can climb almost anything, from sheer cliff walls to the sides of office buildings to vertical metal pipelines, as long as her stamina holds out. Clamber to the top of a tree, rock it back and forth, and she can use it as a catapult to launch through the air. She has a glider, useful for leaping off cliffs and then popping her chute to serenely drift the last few feet to safety, and she can buttslide down mountainsides at terrific speeds.
The island quickly becomes a playground for acrobatic travel, and combining all of Tchia's traversal options and soul powers is the most fun I've had exploring an open world for ages. It can be blissfully peaceful or a frantic improvisational scramble to navigate mountains, valleys, and gorges. If that's not enough, I can also summon a raft at a dozen different docks to explore the ocean around the islands, take in the views, and stop occasionally to dive for pearls or visit some of the tiny islands scattered off the coast.
Feel the burn
When it comes to combat, it's all about soul-jumping, though. The fabric monsters inhabit small camps (and later, several sprawling factories) across the islands, and if they spot me they try to tangle me up with weird tendrils of cloth. These cloth golems can only be defeated with flames, so Tchia's other power, "soul throwing," is needed. I can zap myself into a gas can or lantern, roll myself around, and then target a bad guy, first lifting my explosive vessel from the ground and then flinging myself at the enemy, popping out as myself again when the explosive detonates.
Even better, if there are some logs on a nearby fire I can become one and roll myself through a whole pack of baddies, torching them without having to soul-jump into something new. Once I got really good at it I could reduce an entire camp of cloth monsters to ash in seconds without ever slowing down enough to get snared in their fabric traps.
Not many adventurers have as much fun gear as Tchia. With her ukulele I can take part in many musical numbers across the islands, sometimes a quiet, sweet song sung at a campfire by a friend, sometimes a boisterous celebration at a village party after a communal feast. Musical notes fly into a radial menu telling me when and what to strum in rhythm-game format, and it's often quite challenging—but you can also put these songs on autoplay and just enjoy them with no penalty.
The ukulele also doubles as a wand to strum the magic spells I've acquired, such as conjuring animals (useful if there's not a bird or a crab around), changing the time of day, and even making it rain or stop raining. And I can use it to play (poorly, in my case) freeform music, too.
I feel spoiled at this point, but Tchia also gets a fantastic in-game camera. You can take standard photos, but also set it on a tripod and use a timer to get yourself into the shot and strike a pose. There are a dozen film stocks to choose from with varying styles, you can play with the zoom and focal length, turn the flash on and off, and most charmingly, it works like cameras used to before digital took over.
After you take pictures, you need to develop them at a photolab on the island to see how they came out. It's got some real throwback satisfaction to it, and my photo album has both a bunch of great photos and several where I goofed a bit, got the framing or focus wrong, or wasn't quick enough to pose the way I wanted to. Somehow waiting a while to see how your pictures turn out is more fun than just seeing them immediately. I got a big laugh when I saw the only photo I took with the flash on: Tchia, naturally, had blinked, and her eyes were closed. Adorable.
Over the course of my adventure I grew incredibly fond of Tchia herself—and not just because of her cool gear and amazing traversal skills. She's a sweet kid, shy with strangers, loyal to friends and family, a friend of animals (you can pet not just the dogs but every single creature in the game), and a lover of good food. Her coming of age story has some relatable awkward moments, plenty of funny encounters (trying and failing to invent a cool secret handshake with a new friend had me laughing throughout), genuinely tragic and disturbing events, and even a bit of sweet and wholesome childhood romance.
When not questing to find her dad, there's still plenty to do. Sealed shrines depict totems with various facial features, and an oddly satisfying minigame challenges me to carve a wooden totem to match it, gaining me entrance to the shrine and a challenge within—which might be a race, a platforming challenge, a slingshot shooting range, or one tricky Marble Madness-like course where I had to roll myself through a moving maze.
Even what feels like standard open world collecting of trinkets and pearls has a real purpose, letting me trade them for some of the hundreds of cosmetic options for Tchia, including hats, shirts, skirts, sunglasses, and backpacks, some traditional, some modern, and some downright silly like an umbrella hat or a chicken costume. There are even skins for my ukulele so I can make it look like a banjo or an electric guitar. Every visit to a campsite to eat and replenish my soul meter results in a little tinkering with Tchia's clothes to try on all the new outfits and accessories I've found or traded for.
Heck, even the trophies you can earn by completing challenges like cliff diving or animal racing are actual, physical trophies, which you stick in your backpack and then feed into an arcade-like claw machine to extract prizes for even more new outfits. The first time I saw the world map littered with little icons for collectibles and challenges I worried they were the type of mostly pointless distractions you find in an Ubisoft open world game, but Tchia makes searching and collecting well worth your time.
The island itself is beautifully and convincingly brought to life. The developers, Awaceb, are from New Caledonia, and the voice acting and music—the game is entirely in the languages of French and Drehu—are performed by New Caledonian locals as well. I knew very little about New Caledonia before playing Tchia, and I'm sure I still don't know all that much, but I can't think of the last time I played a game made with so much obvious love for a real place and its community.
Tchia (the game) is a delight, an enchanting world filled with adventure, excitement, beauty, physics-driven fun, and lots of charming characters, none moreso than Tchia (the kid) herself. She may throw her soul haphazardly into crabs, birds, fish, and coconuts, but her heart always stays right where it is.