Release date: November 2014
Format: Digital download (eShop)
Other platforms: iOS, PC (Windows/Mac)
Price: ~$10 AUD
Tengami‘s art style appealed to me as soon as I saw it in the eShop, so I bought it straight away. However, because I am bad at managing backlogs, I only got around to playing it recently. The first thing I’d say about it is that it almost feels more like a digital pop-up book rather than a game. It’s available on PC, but I’d recommend getting it on the Wii U or on iOS to take advantage of the touch screen, which feels more natural to use given the tactile nature of the game.
There is no dialogue in Tengami, and very little text aside from the haikus you unlock at the end of each section. The story – or what little there is of it – is quite simplistic; you play as a Japanese warrior who makes his way through a variety of tranquil landscapes, searching for missing pink cherry blossom flowers to restore a dead tree.
It’s basically a ‘2.5D’ adventure game, in which you tap the ground to make the warrior walk to that spot. As you move through the environment, you will see objects or areas that have a pale glow, signalling that you can interact with it in some way. Items or areas with two glowing semi-circles can be pulled like an origami paper design or a pop-up display in a children’s book, and this is often necessary to progress; some areas cannot be passed until you’ve rearranged the scenery in this way. Standing in one of the short pillars of light and swiping to ‘turn the page’ acts as a transition that takes you to another area or (if you’re sailing) makes you get in or out of the boat.
Tengami also includes some puzzle-solving, and this was one aspect that I thought let the game down a bit. Some puzzles relied on the player manipulating the environment, having to fold or flip or slide elements of the scenery so the player could pass, and these were generally interesting, but I felt like there could have been more of them. However, some of the puzzles required the player to go off and find certain items and bring them to a certain point to unlock a puzzle, while others required players to count or take note of symbols hidden in the area (including sections that were only visible while folding the scenery) and using sliders on an interface at a shrine to record your findings to unlock whatever was inside. There were a few points where it wasn’t immediately clear what needed to be done, resulting in a bit of needless wandering, and in general I thought there could have been more variety in the puzzle design. Also, some of the puzzles required a fair bit of backtracking to solve, making it a bit tedious at times. This was made worse by the fact that the character walks at a glacial pace and there’s no option to make him run, which made travelling back and forth take much longer than it should have.
I also came across a bug when I tried to get out of the boat on one occasion but instead ended up still sitting in my boat, with a duplicate boat parked over the transition spot, and I was unable to get out of my boat. Once I sailed off screen and came back, it let me out of the boat even though the duplicate was still there, but it was a little annoying. Many of these problems didn’t annoy me as much as they otherwise would have (and probably should have) because the environments were so nice to look at and the music was so calming, but it did mean that Tengami suffered from a game-play perspective.
The music for Tengami was gorgeous, and when the credits rolled I wasn’t surprised to see that David Wise (probably most well-known for the stunning Donkey Kong soundtracks) was behind it. It adds to the ancient Japan setting and creates an atmosphere that, unlike many games, truly feels relaxing and peaceful and, in some areas, a little haunting.
It’s worth pointing out that this is a pretty short game; I finished it in a little over an hour and a half, and I wasn’t rushing at all. As a result, some people may consider it overpriced at around $10. That being said, not everyone wants to play epic 50+ hour games all the time, so Tengami is a nice change of pace, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Tengami is not without its flaws and the short play time will probably be off-putting for some, but if you have any appreciation at all for beautiful things, you owe it to yourself to play this game. I feel that the normal asking price of around $10 may be a little steep, especially given some of the pacing issues I mentioned earlier, but if you see it on sale for $5 or so, it’s worth it for the visuals and music alone.
*title page screenshot taken from Apple iTunes store