Tunche is a permadeath brawler begging to be played with friends

A tunche is a type of malignant spirit said to haunt the Peruvian jungle and signal its attacks with a piercing whistle. Tunche, meanwhile, is a co-op 2D brawler partly inspired by the titular Peruvian legend. It's set in the Amazon rainforest and features smooth, hand-drawn animation by the folks at developer Leap Game Studios. But while I was drawn to Tunche's GDC demo by its unique, refreshing art, it was the combat that really set the hook. 

I was only able to play as Rumi, one of Tunche's four starting characters, but everything about her moveset oozed style, which is good because Tunche grades your moves on a Devil May Cry-like style meter. By default, Rumi has two basic three-hit combos—one for melee and one for range—and you can alternate between them to create different or longer combos. The controls are crisp and even Rumi's basic attacks look great and feel weighty, but things really picked up once I started juggling and dodging. 

As you'd expect, Rumi can dodge to break out of combos, evade enemy attacks or move around the area. She can also dodge mid-air, either to the move to the side or to slam straight down for a powerful AoE. Her dodge works incredibly with her uppercut, which is specifically designed to knock enemies into the air so you can keep them aloft with knuckle sandwiches. In just a few minutes, I went from blindly mashing the melee button, to opening with a ranged combo, dashing into a group, uppercutting the toughest enemy, air comboing him across the screen, slamming down into the enemies below, stringing together melee attacks between dodges, and finally clearing the baddies out with one of Rumi's flashy special attacks. 

You can do a lot with the vanilla moveset, and as you progress, you can also unlock and upgrade moves to embellish and strengthen your combos. In fact, the Leap devs manning the demo told me Tunche has several RPG elements, including a crafting system and a day/night system, with enemies growing stronger at night. It also has permadeath. If you die, you lose all your upgrades and go back to the first level. 

Ordinarily, overly scarce checkpoints in brawlers are a turn-off for me, but rather than off-putting, I actually find the idea of having no checkpoints in Tunche pretty compelling. That's partly because it doesn't seem to be a terribly long game—I was able to beat the first of four areas in around 15 minutes. I only played a demo build, but I get the feeling dying won't cost you an ungainly amount of time. Plus, Tunche's style meter makes it feel like a game where you'll try to do better each run rather than get further each run. It's not about finally reaching the third zone, it's about finally A-ranking it. I want to spend more time with its combat, so I'm all for mastering it. 

That said, Tunche's co-op support is the main reason its permadeath excites me. Dying and resetting after a long run in a game like Risk of Rain never bothers me because I always spend half of the next run chatting with friends about where things went wrong and how we'll overcome them this time. It stings to lose your hard-earned items and upgrades, but it's also fun to swap characters with a friend and try again. I get the same vibe from Tunche. I can already see me and a friend rotating between the four starting characters, working out when to unlock what moves, and swapping combo tips as we go along. 

Tunche feels like one of those games that takes a minute to warm up and consequently doesn't demo well, but I still had a good time with it at GDC. It's got gorgeous art and fast combat, and if Leap can add in all the features they're promising without compromising what I played, Tunche could well be something special come 2019.