There’s a lot I’m excited for in Tchia. Revealed at the Game Awards back in 2020, the trailer boasted a whole load of activities: sailing, climbing, ukelele playing, swimming, tree-hopping, slingshot sharpshooting, totem carving, gliding - the list is never ending - and all set on a beautiful island with characters to talk to, quests to complete, and enemies to fight. And on top of all that, you also have the ability to "soul-jump" letting you control any animal or object.
It sounds too good to be true, right? But two years after Awaceb's trailer debut, I’ve gotten my hands on a preview build to see whether a nine-person dev team’s tropical island exploration game is pie in the sky. Turns out, it’s the opposite; my hands on time suggests Tchia will deliver on everything it promised and more.
The preview begins a couple of hours into the story, but an introductory video explains via narration that Tchia’s father has been kidnapped by a mysterious man, and to get him back she has asked the malevolent tyrant of the island, Meavora, for help. In return, he needs a shopping list of items from around the island, so Tchia sets off in search of them, hoping to get his help and save her old pa.
I’m then dropped onto the tropical island as Tchia, ready to do some exploring, when suddenly a gunshot rings out, scaring me half to death. If I were holding a piña colada it would be all over the front of my flamingo print shirt. The warning shot came from the gun barrel of a local islander named Gabby, who loosens up once she realises that Tchia is a literal child. As a sort-of apology, she asks you to fetch her a crab so you can eat dinner with her and her daughter. Okay lady, whatever you want, just please don’t shoot me again.
One thing to note about the surprising start to this relaxing island game is that characters in Tchia speak in a local dialect. It's a mix of French and Drehu, both native languages of New Caledonia, a small archipelago in the southwest Pacific that acts as the main inspiration for Tchia. New Caledonia is the homeland of developer Awaceb’s co-founders, so look forward to plenty of New Caledonian culture, wildlife, folklore, and traditions in the game.
After saying goodbye to my trigger-happy new friend, it’s island exploring time. I leave Gabby's village and immediately spot a raft next to a river, so the first thing I do is jump on it and set sail. Controlling the boat takes a little practice, as you need to run between the sail and the rudder to control the speed and direction, but it doesn’t take long for me to start cruising peacefully along the island’s rivers on my crab quest. It’s also my first opportunity to really take in the island which, to put it plainly, is utterly gorgeous.
There are the sounds of gentle waves, crickets chirping, birds squawking, and a light breeze making the trees rustle. There are mountains jutting out further inland, and I can see thickets of trees as well as swamp lands further along the coastline. As I continue along the winding river, Tchia's island feels almost like a collection of mini-biomes, each with different plants and animals. It seems strange to see so many different terrains and wildlife, but after reading the New Caledonia Wiki page I found out the island is known for its micro-climates and exceptional biodiversity - cool!
I find the area where Gabby penciled the crab’s location on my map, and, after some searching around, scoop it up. The "soul-jumping" option pops up and soon enough, I'm suddenly scuttling at ground level across the sandy floor. I’m a crab! Hell yeah! Each animal has their own special power, and as a crab I have the pinch ability. It's of little use to me right now, but in certain situations it lets you cut through ropes and other materials. Instead of sailing, I decide to soul-jump my way back to Gabby and start excitedly finding other animals. There are stags that can gallop incredibly fast, dolphins that race through water, and birds that soar through the sky (birds also let you unleash poop bombs on unsuspecting victims below, hehe).
I recommend playing with a controller over keyboard and mouse, but regardless of which one suits you, the soul-jumping feels incredibly fluid. You can use your power from far away so there’s no need to try to sneak up on an animal to possess it. It’s as easy as aiming with LB and pressing RT to launch yourself into the critter. The only thing you need to keep an eye on is a magical bar at the bottom of the screen that depletes over time. When it empties, you’re launched out of the animal’s body like you're being bucked by a horse.
I give Gabby her crab and am introduced to her daughter, Louise, who says she can help me find one of the items on my list: a dead chicken. She tells me to meet her further inland, so it’s time to explore the island some more. Walking is for losers, so it’s time to try some free climbing. I scramble up a tree and realise that I can catapult myself from one tree to another, which is awesome. I’m like the New Caledonian Spider-Girl with the way I'm moving across the island. When I get enough height, I bust out my glider and sail back down to the ground.
Traversing is an absolute treat in Tchia, and alongside sailing, soul-jumping, gliding, and tree-catapulting, you can also climb on any surface you fancy, Breath Of The Wild-style. Sometimes when you approach a surface you need to shuffle around it to find the right angle for Tchia to start climbing, but it didn't happen often in my time with the preview. You have a stamina bar that depletes, but you can permanently extend it by finding and eating the aptly named Stamina Fruit that are nestled around the island.
You have a map, but there’s no icon showing exactly where you are. If you do wanna know, Tchia will circle a large area of the island you’re in, but it doesn’t get any more specific then that, which I like. The archipelago's different micro-biomes and smaller satellite islands help you orientate yourself pretty easily, and when in doubt you can just find a high point and climb. It’s a cool feeling knowing that you can look at a huge mountain and decide “I’m going to climb that.”
You also have your handy ukulele with you, which you not only get to jam out on during musical cutscenes, but also has magical abilities. Whip it out and start strumming your chords in a certain order and the time of day will change; twang out another combination and you can summon birds to soul-jump into or giant bouncy plants that launch you into the air. There’s a cool-down timer on these abilities, but I only really used them when I was stuck for traversal options (which was maybe once or twice during my handful of hours). Basically, having your handy ukulele means that you’ve never stuck for a ride.
The last thing I discovered was soul-jumping into objects. Jumping into something like a chair or an axe means you just kinda just flail around on the floor and jump a little, but where it really comes into play is when you take on the Maano, fabric monsters that lurk around designated camps that hold special items. This is where your familiarity with soul-jumping comes into play, as you can possess animals to make the approach and then quickly hop into lamps and other flammable objects placed around the camp to hide, or choose voilence and launch yourself at the Manno to set them on fire. I’ve not cleared all the camps yet, but it’s on my to-do list.
And it looks like my list is going to get longer, as there’s so much of the island I haven’t seen. The preview build didn't have any other quests beyond Gabby's, so there's still a question mark next to Tchia's story, but I had a brilliant time exploring. After my handful of hours spent on Tchia’s gorgeous archipelago, it feels like Awaceb are onto something big. Tchia feels like a lovingly made game made by people who really care, and New Caledonia seems like the perfect place for a whimsical island adventure about a young girl discovering her newfound magical abilities. I’m eager to learn more about this wonderful place.