[Disclaimer: indie games that I review are reviewed differently than larger development team games; “AAA” games. This doesn’t mean I don’t hold them to high standards, but rather, I take into consideration different variables, such as the size of the actual development team, or the type of finances that were available]
Video games are an artform.
That one statement can spark a very heated discussion between opposing opinions. The debate still arises every now and then, with both sides passionately making their cases. Can Tengami, the recent title created by Nyamyam, add to the discussion and prove video games can be, and are, pieces of art, featuring interactive set pieces creatively pieced together?
Visuals – 10/10
Tengami is inspired by Japanese artwork; it plays out as a Japanese pop-up book, to be precise. The player navigates the protagonist through various levels, all of which are 2D. However, the level design and art direction are superb in the title, and manage to still give depth. Though nothing is especially detailed (ie – individual leaves on trees, blades of grass, etc.), everything is recognizable. This isn’t a flaw in design by any means, but rather, an artistic approach that both works and is a treat for the eyes. Tengami truly is a work of art, utilizing the cultural background of the artwork before it. Each hill, mountain, tree, ocean, and cloud reflect a beautiful world within the confines of a pop-up book.
What really won me over are all the extra touches the developers created, ranging from subtle to blatantly obvious. The wonderful animations between sections of each level are presented as a page turning in a book, with the previous pop-up folding down; the new pop-up page folding up to reveal the next section of the map. What’s more is that the player is the one turning the page: you navigate the protagonist to a glowing part of the map, and are then prompted to turn the page, either left or right, to reveal a different perspective on the current map or transition to a new area altogether.
Tengami truly is a beautiful game, and runs flawlessy. From the moment I booted it up to the very finish, I didn’t spot any frame rate dips or visual hiccups. What’s more is that there is consistency in not only the technical aspects, but also with the art direction.
I usually bring it up, but I cannot say enough about the usage of colors in Tengami. Not only did the developers use a nice pallette of colors, but they implement them very well in two ways: gradients and situational usage.
Watercolored gradient transitions are simply incredible: from green to blue, red to white-orange, or even somehow blending pinks and greys successfully. The gradients usually incorporate a lighter and darker color, with the darker color helping to create depth. These colors are used for creating a sense of distance; for instance, the player sees a clear separation between the sky in the background, the trees in the middle, and smaller trees (or other landmarks) in the foreground. The colors work very well, matching the Japanese art style, the pop-up book theme, and reflecting the current season in the story. Throughout the story, the player experiences Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, each with its own set of colors and gradients.
Tengami is an absolute treat for your eyes, and couldn’t be visually praised enough; I have no complaints.
Audio – 10/10
The audio in this game is also very well done, though it is more focused on music than general audio cues. There are audio cues in the game; a wolf howling, a door opening, a waterfall flowing in the background – there are plenty of the audio clips to be found. These are all well done, fitting in with the game. Where the audio shines, though, is the soundtrack in Tengami.
The music in this game is just as good as its visuals, fitting the theme and being of high quality. There were moments during my second play-through in which I simply didn’t do anything and let the music play. Each song is unique and sets itself apart; however, what truly stands out is how all of the songs add up to one solid collective piece of music. Though each song is independent, none feels out of place, nor do they feel boring, even though the style is very relaxing and laid back.
Much to my delight, when I saw the end credits roll after my first playthrough, I spied the composer for this poetic game: David Wise. If you aren’t familiar with his work, he is well known for his work with the Donkey Kong Country games, including the latest iteration, DKC: Tropical Freeze.
Wise does a fantastic job utilizing instruments that compliment the Japanese art style; it sounds as though he makes use of instruments like the biwa, koto, and ryuteki. I won’t go into the musical technicalities here, but know this: the music in Tengami is incredible.
In addition to quality, there is quantity as well. Thirteen songs easily add up to over half an hour of music, and they are well placed throughout the title. Again, I have no complaints about the audio and music. The songs and audio are mixed well, effectively used, and fit into the world of Tengami.
Gameplay – 8.75/10
Tengami is a puzzle adventure game, simply put. The play is so simple that there is no tutorial in the game: throughout the first level, the player is introduced to concepts – in a natural manner – like turning the page, navigating to glowing spots on the screen, and paying attention to the surroundings. I greatly enjoyed this because it didn’t hold my hand, yet didn’t make gameplay impossible to pick up and figure out.
The gameplay is very simple. The player uses the GamePad to touch a spot in the level, which leads the protagonist to that desired spot, solving puzzles along the way. Though there weren’t enough of the more difficult puzzles to solve, all puzzles are still very well done. At first it is standard affair, moving pieces to match up or “flipping open” pop-up sections on the map. Later on, though, the puzzles are much more creative and challenging.
The amount of solid puzzles is a little weak, and the gameplay is a little slow – it takes way too long for your character to travel where you want him to be – but I commend Nyamyam for incoporating the GamePad. I cannot imagine playing this on a platform without some type of touch screen, as it helps the gameplay to flow smoothly and offers up unique “point-and-click” type of gameplay. Tengami proves that the GamePad is useful.
After playing through Tengami, I wanted more: more puzzles, more worlds to explore, and more creative GamePad usage. This is a blessing, as it made me want to play the game even more, adding to replayability. However, it is also a curse, in a way: it made the game feel a little on the short side.
Puzzles like the “counting” and “various cliffside levels” ones are superbly done (sorry, trying not to spoil anything with puzzle names), but I just wanted more for this title. It would’ve extended the gameplay, and could’ve added to the overall experience. Luckily, there is another way to extend the gameplay a little. Throughout the entirety of Tengami, there are ten collectible Miiverse stamps to search for and use when posting onto Miiverse. These were nice additions that were very enjoyable to find.
Solid gameplay mechanics and well designed puzzles help Tengami stand out amongst the plethora of indie titles in the eShop, but without a larger quantity of them, the game suffers a little. Otherwise, the gameplay is very unique and well done.
Entertainment Factor – 8.5/10
The story in Tengami is a little lacking as well, but it gets the job done. The player navigates a protagonist searching for cherry blossoms to revive his tree (to revive something once lost). Each chapter ends with a haiku, adding into the artistic poetry that is Tengami, and gives a brief recap of what the player just finished.
Though story was thin, and the gameplay a little short, I still had multiple play-throughs of Tengami. Why? Because the art direction, music, and few difficult puzzles convinced me to play the game again. I wasn’t bothered by lack of online play (this type of game doesn’t need it), and I just found the game to be an enjoyable experience.
Tengami is not about challenges, nor is it about high production action. It is about relaxing and enjoying an artistic game experience, which is made unique by the usage of the GamePad’s touch screen. I was able to finish the game, all stamps discovered and collected, in about two and a half hours, making it a fairly short game. But you know what? I wanted to play through again, just to experience the game a second time.
Tengami is a beautifully crafted game experience that, though short in both game length and puzzles, is a very memorable experience. I highly recommend this game, and it is a welcome contribution to the Wii U eShop. One thing I do want to point out is that the price seems just a little steep for the length of this game: it is $10, while its iOS counterpart has a cheaper $5 pricetag on it. Other than these minor critiques, this game is a worth your time. Tengami offers a solid gaming experience which adds foundation to the argument that video games are an artform.
Overall – 9.3/10