Developer Awaceb created Tchia as a love letter to its native home of New Caledonia. Though the game itself is set on a fantastical archipelago, it draws deeply from its real-life counterpart in terms of environment and story. It feels really genuine as a snapshot of the culture; its story is heavily rooted in the territory's folklore, and some of the cast and crew are also New Caledonian natives. From members of the dev team, to the voice actors and the soundtrack composers, this game is as authentically New Caledonian as it's possible to be.
Our titular protagonist, Tchia, witnesses her father being kidnapped the day after her 12th birthday. Eventually, she learns that the evil ruler Meavora has him, and she journeys to meet with him to save her father, and ultimately her homeland.
Tchia unlocks many abilities along her journey, the most fantastical of which is soul jumping. She's able to transfer her own soul into any animal or object and control them. This is a really fun element, and can create a lot of chaos, but is also really useful for exploration throughout the world. You can soul jump into explosive items to defeat enemies, or simply get into hard-to-reach places by jumping into a rock and rolling through a gap.
Some of the abilities you unlock aren't quite so unusual, but all have some bearing to progression in the game. Sculpting totems means Tchia is able to unlock totem shrine doors, provided she sculpts the exact same face as on the door. There's a rock-balancing game which unlocks different 'Soul Melodies' that Tchia can play on her ukulele — tunes which all give different effects, from changing the time of day to invoking crabs or birds to soul jump into. Tchia really encourages the player to think creatively to solve problems, so there feels like there's often more than one way to approach objectives.
The game relies heavily on real-life physics for a lot of its mechanics. Tchia can slide quickly down steep terrains, using the momentum to get a high jump to then use her parachute and glide. She has a whole host of exploration methods at her disposal and all are really enjoyable to play with; soul jumping into birds to soar over the islands, or navigating the seas on her boat. Even good old fashioned walking allows Tchia to get deeper into nature and discover smaller landmarks.
Throughout the world are strange fabric creatures, the Maano, which Tchia must destroy. Acting as Meovaora's minions, they're susceptible to fire, so you can use this to your advantage. There are many ways of doing this, evidence again that creativity is key as you look around to use the environment. Blowing the Maano to smithereens is really cathartic. They don't pose a particularly big threat, and you'll get a visual warning when they're about to hit you with an attack, but sometimes it's more about how to dispose of them tactically, especially if resources are limited.
While the cheery tropical environment and juvenile protagonist might lead you to think that this is a light-hearted holiday adventure, there's a lot of dark stuff going on in Tchia. One particular moment with the antagonist Meavora had us gasping, and it was at that moment we realised Tchia is more than it appears on the surface. The game also introduces some really deep themes about self-discovery and identity which are really cool to see unfold. It's humorous, deep, and complex, but it doesn't feel disingenuous to the overall plot. Everything just works really well.
Tchia feels very ambitious, particularly for a first game from a small team. However, it sadly does feel a little unpolished at times, with bugs meaning that certain segments caused Tchia to phase through the floor, or rendered the character immovable. Unfortunately, we did experience a couple of bugs which didn't allow us to progress with the game, and we had to use the 'Skip Gameplay Segment' function. It's disappointing when you're enjoying something so much and you can't experience it as it was meant to be played.
There's so much to explore and discover on the islands, it can feel a little overwhelming. The in-game map feels a little cluttered, and it can often be unclear on where to go to progress things. On a couple of occasions, it felt like we progressed simply by accident, and triggered something without meaning to.
Still, wandering around the many different terrains and seeing the wide variety of environments the islands offer is really fun, and knowing that it's rooted in reality is fascinating. It definitely had us rushing for a Google image search to see if New Caledonia is really that beautiful in real life (spoiler: it is).
Tchia feels really unlike any experience we've ever had with a video game. Full of heart, but occasionally lacking direction, it's a unique experience showcasing the love the dev team has for New Caledonia. Everything about Tchia evokes a wonderful tropical vibe, full of rich history and culture, from the folklore elements of the storyline to the authentic voice acting in New Caledonia's native language, Drehu. Unfortunate bugs let it down and stop players experiencing it to its fullest, but a solid, enjoyable, and ultimately beautiful game is at its core. It's evident that a lot of love has been poured into this really exciting debut from Awaceb, and as a day one PS Plus Extra release, it's bound to bring a lot of joy to a lot of players.