Scribed as a Zen-like adventure puzzle tale, Tengami – set in a stylised pop-up book rendition of a feudal Japanese landscape – draws many of its visual and audio cues from the sights and sounds of Japan’s heritage. Starting in what seems like a dream state, you wake up in what you’d normally consider the deep-end of a game. No real introduction, tutorial or explanation. You’re just slotted into the painted world with your papercraft man and the ambient tunes of the bygone era to keep you company across the season-spanning pages of Tengami’s world.
I’m sure you can all remember exactly how a pop-up book works. There’s little need for reading when a “Picture tells a thousand words” proverb comes full circle. And when you can turn that picture into another, by turning the page or tugging a sheet of paper’s carefully crafted origami insert, you’re left with another piece of that tall tale. Travelling across the pages, and turning back folds of paper, often solves one part of a puzzle while throwing down a new set of challenges ahead of you.
The premise to Tengami is simple enough. A cherry tree has lost it’s blossoms. And, this being Japan, known these days for the “Sakura” petals that are hailed as signifying the beginning of Spring, gives you enough of a culturally-relevant reason to set off on a picture-book journey across the four seasons to recover – what is essentially – the life force of the tree, itself. But it isn’t just a simple walk in a Japanese park as you’ll quickly reach the unreachable. Bridges with no connection, waters that need to be tamed, and locks that need to be twisted. When a quick folding of the paper isn’t enough to cut it, patterns and clues will start to lead the way to the next piece of that poor tree’s livelihood.
Travelling across the 2.5D landscape with your 2D paper Nippon warrior is simply done by double tapping the location you wish to move to. This, handily, leaves the warrior with a waypoint on which to auto-map his journey. Sadly, mostly due to the camera and/or the character’s reluctance to pick up the pace when walking or due to slow screen-panning, you’re left with a arduously long walk. Plenty of times I found myself having to double tap every second or so to keep in line with the game’s slow pace. Even though Tengami does pen itself as a zen-like relaxing frolic, it’s pace doesn’t necessarily give off that same desired vibe.
The character’s movements as a whole seem more suited to a stalking ninja who look just about ready to draw a blade at any given moment. Alas, he never does. Nor should he. But it sure wouldn’t have surprised me if he swiftly gutted a runaway rat at cooked it on a beacon for a quick snack.
With four fragments of a troubled tree scattered throughout the pages of Tengami, you’re constantly moving forward. You’ll turn a page from the tree to land in a zone, venture forward, conquer its smart and often perplexing puzzles to nab the next cherry blossom, all before returning to the tree and flicking over into the next page of this watercolour story book.
There’s nothing to say just how this mysterious local is bending the world to his will; folding ledges over and flattening bridges on a whim. Nor is there any real reason to question it. You’d want an answer in a storybook for sure, yet, somehow, Tengami never begs the question. I was quite happy with my plans to bring Spring back to that tree – and maybe that’s just because I’d like for Spring to hurry up in the real world right now.
While Tengami may be a little too slow for myself to truly enjoy, those looking for a reason to turn off the TV and just appreciate the sights and sounds – along with some some light brain teasers – will most likely find some reason to see this through to the end. It isn’t a lengthy journey, by any stretch of the imagination – which is a good thing. Dear Esther managed to craft a beautifully immersive short story into a 90 minute wrapper, and Tengami looks to share that ambition.
While Tengami most certainly isn’t something to be fully enjoyed on bus or train, it’d benefit by being hooked up to your speaker system and enjoyed in the comfort of your own abode. And so, for that, it seems wise to hold out on the journey until the Wii U counterpart hits the waves.