Thanks to its delightful sandbox traversal, Tchia became our favourite open world game of the year. For more awards, head to our Game of the Year 2023 hub.
Chris Livingston, Senior Editor: I love open world games, but such a familiar formula has been established that so many of them wind up feeling predictable. Collection quests, treasure hunts, minigames, gliders for getting around… these things aren’t bad, but they’ve grown a bit stale. Tchia has these elements too, but puts such a fresh spin on them they feel brand new.
Soul-jumping is the highlight of the traversal system, and means that in addition to the gliding every other game has you can also leap into a nearby bird to go from drifting to actual soaring. Tchia can fling her soul into everything from fish to deer to rocks, making each trip across the island an exercise in kinetic improv. Its minigames are wonderfully inventive and original, too: rock stacking, cliff diving, totem carving, and elaborate musical challenges using her fully playable ukulele.
Every open world game has trophies for completing challenges, but there’s another twist in Tchia. The trophies you win are physical objects you can stick in your pack and then shove into vending machines to get new outfits and skins—far more satisfying that just seeing a number on your stats page. And the island-wide treasure map hunt in Tchia is the best since RDR2’s—maybe even better, because Arthur Morgan couldn’t soul-possess a dog to dig up a treasure chest or a crab to snip the lock. Not only is Tchia’s open world beautiful to explore, there’s so many inventive ways to explore it.
Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: Kind of incredible that the first PC game to follow up on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s systems-driven open world potential would be from a team of only 120 developers. Wait, sorry, 12 developers. Not only is the game adorable, it’s full of “holy crap, that works!?” traversal options, from bobbing back and forth on palm trees to slingshot yourself to chucking a coconut off a cliff and then soul-jumping into it in midair. Tchia makes me wonder why so many triple-A games are obsessed with creating giant open worlds, only to be so uncreative in how you get around them.
(Image credit: Awaceb)
Chris Livingston: It’s also wonderful how improvisational it all winds up feeling. While on one of the treasure hunts I mentioned, I found the entrance to a cave that was too small to fit through. I had a crab in my backpack (always carry a crab with you, it’s just good planning) so I possessed it and scuttled through the tiny tunnel into the cave. When it was time to leave I realized the crab had wandered off, so I soul-jumped into a small rock and rolled back out. It’s always great when a game gives you tools to be creative without completely defining the ways you can use them. It makes you feel like an improv genius.
Some of Tchia’s tools are perfectly familiar to any open world traveler, but given a nice little twist. A lot of games have a photo mode, but Tchia’s camera is a real in-game camera. You place the tripod, choose the film stock, set a timer, run into position, and take a snap… but then you have to go get the film developed at the only photo lab on the island. It’s such a nice little touch and reminds me of the days before digital cameras where you had to wait a while to see if your pictures turned out or if you blinked at the worst moment.
Finding your way around with your map isn’t as straightforward as it is in just about any other open world game, either. Ask Tchia where she is and… well, she has a rough idea. A pin will drop on the map but it won’t completely specify your location, so if you’re looking for something you’ll also need to look around for landmarks and orient yourself with what you see. It’s a lovely detail and makes exploring and finding your way around much more fun than just having an arrow pinpointing your exact place in the world.