If you read lots of indie game reviews, you’ve doubtlessly heard the term ‘passion project’ before. Many indies are precisely that – labours of love, with countless hours poured into them to create a game somebody had the desire to share with the world. Tanuki Sunset takes this concept one step further, fuelled by two guys’ passion for longboarding while listening to chilled music. As for the game’s raccoon star, the team couldn’t think of an animal more daring. It’s hard to disagree.
The controls, especially the drifting, feel like they’ve benefited from real-world experience – similar to how motorsport personalities provide studios with insight into vehicle handling and performance. The right stick gives control of not just direction but also speed, while the drifting model requires precision and expertise.
Thankfully, the tutorial – which also outlines Tanuki’s dream of beating a famous longboarding trail – gives plenty of time to acquaint with drifting around tight turns. Centre yourself on the tarmac, hold the appropriate trigger button, and let go before oversteering. Fail, and you’ll launch yourself into the void surrounding the floating courses. There’s no do-over.
In fact, the tutorial exclusively covers drifting and manoeuvring. It isn’t until much later that reverts, tricks, flips, and ramps come into play. These ideas are introduced slowly over the three courses. It’s fair to say the developer’s focus was on the aspect of speed and handling, rather than performing flips and tricks, as those weaned on the likes of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater may notice a few irregularities such as ‘grabs’ (a tap of the X button) earning more points than a 180 flip (X and a direction.) Tricks are also easy to land, and as such, the only risk for showboating comes from grinding the track’s edge.
The vibe is appropriately breezy. Vapourwave colours, alluring sunsets and sunrises, glistening tarmac and soft lighting, along with a wardrobe full of quintessential ‘90s attire – backward caps, neon-hued shirts, and personal stereos. Longboards are also personalisable, with new designs unlocking at the end of each course. These are purchasable at Bob’s skate shop, which is where much of the game’s personality lies – here you’ll find other oddball characters to interact with.
You also get to meet a seagull called Steven (ha!) for short checkpoint races. These can be tricky – mostly due to the randomised track design, which changes with every restart – but you do get a new board part for your toil. Similar trials can be attempted via the arcade cab back at Bob’s shop.
Initially, I did expect something quite laid back. The music falls into this catalogue, being a mixture of jazz, lounge music, and upbeat tunes that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Sonic game. Progress isn’t governed by beating score targets and course times either – there’s no penalty for slowing down before a bend or failing to perform tricks, allowing you to take each course at your own pace. There are (oddly undisclosed) target times for those wanting to revisit and improve, though, with stickers to earn. A lot of the achievements are also based around beating these targets, and I think it’s safe to say they’ll require practise to unlock.
As touched on briefly, Tanuki Sunset has just three courses and one hit “deaths.” The courses are incredibly long – even arduous flawless runs take around ten minutes to complete. Each is punctuated with three checkpoints, some of which have unique events. That’s to say, checkpoints are around 3-4 minutes apart and you can’t mess up once. This entails weaving in between cars, smashing through garbage piles, and taking turns (including tight U-bends) perfectly. Tricky? Yes, but that’s where the challenge lies. Everything in Tanuki Sunset appears achievable, with hazards clearly marked. It’s just a case of try, try, again.
It took me over an hour’s worth of attempts to beat the final course, with roughly half an hour spent on the last trail alone. But while I did curse a few times during the final hurdle, slamming into the back of a car just seconds away from the last checkpoint, I can’t say I was too frustrated. That collision was down to my own failings, rather than the game wantonly throwing obstacles at me.
Tanuki Sunset offers a comical premise, scenic sunsets, chilled beats, and countless hairpin bends to daringly drift around. It’s certainly an enticing proposition, although the absence of online leaderboards – seemingly down to the randomised track design – may leave you longing. The decision to include three extremely long courses instead of 4 or 5 shorter ones also seems a little odd, but it is at least possible to start at any checkpoint from the map screen. This allows you to replay part of a course to beat your personal best. Old skool sensibilities for a game undecidedly old skool. But do you know what? Old skool is cool.
Rewind Games’ Tanuki Sunset is out Nov 2nd on PSN and Nov 4th on the Xbox Store. A Switch release is planned. Published by Digerati.