Playing Tanzia is a bit like jumping into a time machine and travelling back to an era where consoles still needed memory cards and DVD playback was all the rage. Everything from the cheesy soundtrack to the visuals that look like they’ve had the old-gen HD treatment makes you feel like you’ve traded your Nintendo Switch in for a sixth gen machine.
It’s both a compliment and a criticism, and one that sums up the consistent sense of duality within Arcanity Inc’s indie odyssey. There’s no doubting the studio’s ambition with this title: there’s the levelling system of an RPG; the melee and ranged combat of a hack-’n-slash; and the sandbox exploration of a 3D platformer. There’s a lot to admire here, but the problem is there are just too many ingredients in the pot and it leaves the whole experience lacking one area where it truly shines.
You play a shamanistic prodigy who will have to shake off the shackles of youth and stop the invasion of the dastardly Skeleton King. So yes, the story is very silly, but there’s a real sense of charm to it. Most of the characters you’ll encounter don’t have voiceover, but the narration that links the comic book-style story segments of its roughly ten-hour-long campaign offers a quaint yet dramatic edge. It’s not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, but you can really see the influence of classic cutesy platformers informing dialogue, level design and its overall feel. Some of its monster designs are also really impressive, despite the HD remaster-esque sheen assets often possess.
There are some problems, though, and they can make playing through Tanzia’s story an unnecessary chore. When you do find yourself in combat, the hit detection - or the absence of a reliable hitbox - can make fighting both single foes and groups an exercise in perpetual frustration. You can hold ‘ZL’ to lock onto an opponent, making the ranged power of its spells a little easier to direct, but the same feature doesn’t make hand-to-hand battles any more palatable. You’re often just swinging your chosen tool at a group of enemies in front of you, hoping their health depletes before yours does the same.
There’s also a real lack of feedback to every strike you unleash and spell you cast. Combat serves a key part of a game that’s trying so hard to spin an action-RPG plate among many others, but every swing of the various weapons on offer lacks some much-needed heft. Its acrobatic movement and fighting are a little reminiscent of Legend of Kay Anniversary, but much like that actual HD remaster, these elements never leave an impression or mark that makes Tanzia stand out from the crowd.
You can purchase multiple spells and switch between them at will via an inventory bar that’s always on-screen - it’s a nice touch to be able to flit between each one during battle, but considering you have both a mana bar and a cooldown timer for each one, fights too often descend into periods where you're dodging attacks while waiting for a spell to finally become available again. Juggling two conflicting systems robs Tanzia of the fun its magic elements should bring in abundance, and simply adds another problematic element to the game’s combat model.
There are also a number of instances where the game feels a little too reminiscent of the PC version. Everything from the word ‘hotkey’ being used to refer to its spell inventory, to the fact there’s a ‘Save As’ option when you save in the menu, leaves a little to be desired considering this version has been developed specifically for Switch. There’s no denying the indie studio behind this multi-faceted adventure has poured its heart and soul into an ambitious project, but this doesn’t play like a game that has had the right amount of final polish to get away with a full asking price on console.
There’s a lot to like about Tanzia. It’s an indie game that’s set its ambitions high, boasting DNA from action-RPGs, 3D platformers and more. It’s very much a throwback to a time when those genres were very different beasts, but it's a love letter riddled with many of the problems modern iterations have shed. However, if you can look past the fact it often looks and plays like an HD remaster, you’ll find some creative monster designs and a fantastical world bursting with heartfelt charm.