As Cool as the Other Side of the Pillow

The glory of an indie game is the freedom to do with it what you please.  Gone are the shackles of publishers chucking deadlines and investors expecting what will profit the most over what will be enjoyed the longest.  Take the craziest idea in your head and so long as you have a decent crew and the wherewithal to plug the hours in, you can make that crazy idea happen.  Like, say, piloting a longboarding tanuki through 80s inspired chillwave landscapes worthy of a computer wallpaper while Tokyo Drifting to a slappin’ soundtrack.  Yeah.  Indie games, man.

Tanuki Sunset leaves its premise nice and easy for you: a tanuki with a board and a dream to be on the cover of FISH! Magazine carves the roads of Sunset Island honing the craft necessary to be able to speed through the entire island.  Your journey, after a short tutorial, starts at Bob’s Shop.  Here you’re introduced to a cast of characters able to help customize your gear.  Swap out different wheels, trunks, and boards for your ride, and slap on hats, shirts, glasses, and your own Walkdude for your trash panda.  The vaporwave, 1980s skater, synth style aesthetic is full on display, with button-down shirts that would fit at home on Saved By the Bell and boards that would’ve graced an old Skateboarder magazine.

Once you hit the road Tanuki Sunset will initially give the familiar feel of an endless runner.  There will be various obstacles to give you trouble, various twists and turns to drift through, and a smattering of checkpoints to help you progress.  The experience is escalated tenfold with a beautifully constructed soundtrack.  Your usual suspects of lite-synthwave and 80s city pop instrumentals carry the frontload, but Sunset peppers in little pinches of Future Funk, Lo-Fi, Beach Rock, and even Bossa Nova to tickle taste buds you didn’t know you had.

Little collectibles dubbed Bits, which your Tanuki Mom would personally like you to stop eating so many of, are strewn about each level like a pseudo draft line.  Collecting these in bunches can be used to purchase items at Bob’s Shop, so it’s worth taking the time to ride the line.  Later levels start to add additional obstacles like ramps to jump off of, clusters of blue bits to pull reverts and catch on the fly, and bubbled bits over speed traps to jump off your board to grab and avoid.  And don’t get me started on those Crabs.

Moves like the aforementioned revert and ramp jumps can net Tanuki a higher score for riskier plays.  Points are earned by doing tricks in the air; Kickflipping and grabbing your board in mid-air are done with a push of the button, though I wish there were more variations in the tricks as you only get one of each from what I’ve played.  You can also come into close contact with any cars or roadblocks on the road, or by getting dangerously close to the edge of the road and not falling off, almost like a simpler, easier, less advantageous Shift Boost ala F-Zero GX.

These points outside of bragging rights can net you stickers in the campaign’s nine levels.  Stickers are doled out for beating a track record, not failing during any part of the run, or beating one of the few side characters: Steven, He the Man of the Sky, in a mini-race during your downhill bomb.    The nine levels are enjoyable enough to replay, especially if you’re looking to gather enough bits to go crazy in the Shop, but the amount of content will run you roughly a hour to consume.  Thankfully, Sunset’s Arcade mode fills in a few time gaps with a dozen or so challenges to conquer and an Endless mode because honestly this game would feel fraudulent without one.

There were only a few rocks in the road during my 7 hours with Tanuki Sunset.  Reverts can feel really weird when first used, since they don’t allow any fine tuning during turns and will have a tendency to careen you off course during your first few goes.  The blue revert rings can sometimes be put in precarious places that would almost mean certain death if you went for them unless you purposefully went slow to collect, which in a game looking to build enough speed to drift fast and burn ass…is a little ass-backwards in practice.

The ability to hide the HUD is a welcome option for longer playthroughs, but the full-on omission of a timer is a little perplexing given campaign levels as said before have a time to beat.  This can be a little pinching when trying to hit a perfect run and essentially guessing by the end if you made it or not, especially in the game’s last level, where a particularly long but great outro scene is unskippable.  And fine, let’s talk about the Crabs.

The Crabs are a late campaign inclusion that will latch onto your board and be just annoyingly intrusive to your downhill jam.  The only good ways to remove said crabs from the sides of your board are to clip them on cars and debris on the road or kickflip them off a ramp jump, which removing two at once will net you a nice point bonus.  Personally they aren’t really a bad addition, but the wonkiness of them combined with other problems make them a logistical nightmare.

When casually playing, it’s hysterical to see a Tanuki riding for dear life alongside two crabs with a death wish looking to take a third with them, only to kickflip them off-screen and continue your run.  Trying to mitigate crab grabs while aiming to beat a track record where getting knocked off your board is almost a certain fail and you honestly can’t tell how much they hurt your time because you don’t know your own time…and it can get a little too hectic for a game that’s so aesthetically low-vibe.

But that’s really only gripes for people who like to unlock everything, which I have a gut feeling this really isn’t the place for them.  For the folks who want to sit back, listen to some fantastic tunes, and drift through a hour or two of simple, comedic, and engrossing gameplay involving a trash panda and some 1980s vibes, Tanuki Sunset is worth every bit.

Reviewed on Steam.