Tengami – What We Think:
We first discovered Tengami at IndieCade 2012, where several ex-pats from the Microsoft-published studio that brought you Kinect Sports offered passersby an iPad to try out their Japanese art inspired pop-up book puzzle platformer.
To call Tengami a puzzler or a platformer, however, is to severely understate the achievement in design that NyamYam has painstakingly refined over the years since we first interviewed them. What they have finally delivered, is an exquisite experience that showcases the true potential and beauty of not only the platform but game development as a whole.
Journey of a Thousand Clicks
The game instantly slows down the world around you, drawing you into its languorous and deliberately meditative tempo. This may be difficult for many at first, as you have no option but to observe as your avatar paces the whole way between points to which you direct it via double taps – an effect that is only exacerbated by the fact that the design often requires you to fold back to areas you have already traversed.
This soporific pace is certainly intentional; this idea of back and forth, just like a pop-up book wherein you read through it once and then go back and marvel at the architecture of the folded cardboard. Having spoken with the devs, I know they endeavored to replicate the physics of real hardcopy pop-ups, and the result is startlingly fresh. This however, does eventually become tedious, in spit of its brilliant architecture.
Puzzle Me This
The elements in the game that can be interacted with offer you a faint, pulsing circle prompt, though puzzles can be matters of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. The design in this respect isn’t ideal as it doesn’t necessarily challenge sound logic so much as it requires that the player test possibilities, but again, the act of discovery and exploration appears to be what is on offer here.
The music is superb – a blend of Japanese traditional and contemporary electro infusion. It isn’t unlikely that you will launch the game and find you simply gaze away, swept up in the soothing reverie of it all. I could easily use it as sleep-inducing underscore, a perfect app for winding down.
But let’s flip back a few pages to the matter of the solving of puzzles:
A Riddle Inside an Enigma Wrapped in a Pop-up Book
Unfortunately, it is here that Nyamyam either got too clever or simply made a misstep in creating obtuse puzzles that involve not so much head-scratching logic as trial-and-error, demarcated by arduously long walking sequences between points of interest just aren’t fun. I ran into several such puzzles wherein I simply could not find a way to progress, and I did not want to submit to a walkthrough. Eventually I found some way to proceed, but it wasn’t fun or engaging and totally “harshed my mellow.”
An early example of this involves the wolves, and how they intimidate you, only to discover that they are a ruse and that you will have to take the sloooow walk back to a previous area to solve their puzzle, as you will with the chimes that allow you to move past.
This trend, unfortunately, continues.
In fact, Nyamyam (uncharacteristically for an indie developer) offers a complete step-by-step walkthrough of the Tengami right at the top of the game’s official site – this may underline the fact that such a guide was in high demand. Heck, even WITH the walkthrough I had some trouble figuring out how to get through it. Of course, this made me question my intelligence, perseverance and aptitude for point-and-click adventure games and their naughty little habit of pixel-hunting, but on top of all that self-flagellation, it broke my reverie and the experience ceased to be alluring.
Furthermore, this step-by-step guide demonstrates that this is a strictly linear game, besides the flipping back and forth of panels, and thus has a negligible replay factor.
It pains me to say this, because Tengami is truly one of the most beautiful apps with which I have ever interacted on an iPad, but as a game, for me, it falls short here. I would prefer greater facility in moving through the landscape, to enjoy tricks of the pop-up design, rather than be thwarted by unintuitive roadblocks posing as puzzles.
I still strongly urge you try it, but with a lot of patience in tow. Perhaps you will have greater ease in sorting out the form of logic required here, but for me, it became too much to enjoy as much as I had hoped.
The pop-up book engine that Nyamyam has created, however, is truly extraordinary, and I would love to see them license it to other storytellers; how great would a well-crafted version of Alice in Wonderland, H.P. Lovecraft or heck even Jules Verne, (while we are on the subject of works in the public domain,) be using this pop-up mechanic? Alas, that is not this game, which is what I am reviewing.
Watch the Official Trailer for Tengami below: