Wot I Think: Tengami

Since 2012 we’ve been keen to see Tengami on PC. The Indicade nominated puzzle adventure is immediately eye-catching, thanks to its Japanese pop-up book design, and took naturally to the iPad’s smooth-screened finger-tapping home. A hefty two and a half years on, our wish is finally granted, and Tengami has made its way onto Steam. Was it worth the wait?

It really wasn’t. I’m not even vaguely sure what was done to the game, beyond perhaps improving resolutions, since.

The key flaws aren’t with the PC port, however. (Although there are flaws with the PC port.) The biggest issue here is this is a game that never figured out how to be itself.

Presented as an impossible pop-up book, you move a paper character through pretty scenery, with nebulous aims of reaching glowy lights, and an ultimate goal of collecting flowers to rejuvenate a sad-looking wintry tree. And given the concept, my brain immediately fizzled with the potential of unique puzzles presented by the format, where turning pages, pulling tabs and manipulating scenery could allow you to amend the environment to complete challenges. Sadly, it seems that it is my brain thinking of these ideas, as the game opts for primarily generic puzzling that mostly ignores the format.

Where every other puzzle adventure might have levers to pull, Tengami has tabs to pull. Put some wolves to sleep by tinkling wind chimes, by pulling at tabs. Get a missing piece of a glyph by pulling tabs to raise and lower the water level in a well. Or it just descends to rotating circles or counting symbols. Solutions that do not embrace the pop-up creation at all.

The few puzzles that do use the pop-up formula show how nicely it could have worked. Paths can be created by folding down sections of stairways to adjust levels, mixing and matching until you can make progress. A nice idea, the first time. It proves to be the only idea.

Where popping up is required, the game fails to conceive a way to communicate these possibilities without bloody great pulsating circles all over the screen, leaving you with the gaming choice of clicking where it tells you to, or walking off and making coffee. (Even with “Hints” to off in the options leaves these imagination-removing circles in the game.) This isn’t helped by two and a half years having not proved long enough to add an in-game cursor, instead leaving you with your native Windows pointer, flitted about the screen and turning to a hyperlink hand when you can interact. It’s ugly, and a woefully clear indication that little effort has been made to move this from touch-screen-based interfaces.

Mostly, Tengami seems to fail to understand itself. There are multiple scenes where the way to move your character from one place to another is to fold over a portion of the scenery (where there’s a giant pulsing circle), and rather than changing anything (fold over a boat on the water to reveal the same boat in the same place on the same water), your character just meaninglessly pings elsewhere. These moments feel so emblematic of the overall problem: that an idea was conceived, but never really implemented. Most of the game is about painfully slowly walking your paper person to the next glowing spot on the ground, and pulling at the big glowing circle that appears, then painfully slowly walking back again.

There seem some cut corners, too, beyond the mouse cursor. Despite there being an animation for the character to walk up and down steps, this only works on flights, with glitching instead for all single steps. And one particularly egregious puzzle that involves laboriously lighting fires to illuminate a lighthouse results in that light never actually appearing.

With fear of inciting an Annie Hall-ism, it’s also pretty short. The tree which you’re attempting to cover with blossom gives the strong impression it’s to be made of four acts, making the abrupt end after three a surprise. Although, since there’s no notion of a narrative, no attempt to give purpose to any of what you do, it’s a fitting sudden stop.

Tengami looks good (although not great, I should add – it’s a touch monotonous, and extremely repetitive), and has a lovely concept. But that concept is barely realised, and clumsily implemented. £7 is a hefty price for maybe two hours, especially when that two hours offers little entertainment. It’s possible to see how this could mildly distract on iThings (where it’s £4, by the way), but aside from the wonderful music, there’s very disappointingly not much to recommend here. And after all that waiting.

12 Comments

  1. DanMan says:

    So a nice idea poorly executed. Mkay.

    NEXT.

  2. Eight Rooks says:

    It didn’t distract on iThings. It got a couple of grudgingly favourable reviews, but not many, and it was generally pronounced as bobbins and sank without a trace. I bought it myself, and this review is quite fair – it’s not that nice-looking, there’s really not that much to it, it’s not terribly well designed and it’s… simply not that good.

  3. Simbosan says:

    I have to disagree on the ‘clever concept poorly implemented’. It’s beautiful and the way the scenery folds in and out is very clever, there’s lots of nice little touches like the waterfall for example.

    It is however very very short.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Some of the popup levels are tremendously impressive, technically, others… not so much. Far too many of them have huge areas of blank space that do absolutely nothing, either practically or aesthetically. And it does little if anything particularly interesting with its mythological inspirations, IMO – Okami this ain’t. It’s simply not that great. Not terrible, by any means, but utterly unmemorable, like some random faux-Japanese print you see in an art shop, think “hey, that’s nice” and then forget about by the time you walk out of the door. I’d forgotten I even owned the game until I saw this WiT.

    • Neutrino says:

      How can you disagree with ‘poorly implemented’ when it uses the Windows desktop cursor in game?

      • motoki says:

        You know what really got me? Unlike every piece of PC software pretty much ever, hitting escape doesn’t not bring up the (admittedly extremely sparse) menu. Instead you have to tap, sorry, click for that.

        WASD/arrow keys to walk around would have been nice too. The constant clicking in some long stretches to walk through was carpal tunnel inducing.

  4. Jalan says:

    Even if it played like the game equivalent of crap-on-toast, it has music by David Wise and that’s enough of a sell for me.

  5. quietone says:

    So slow, so painfully slow…Never was so aware how much I am throwing my life away wasting time with games until I played this game. Watching the little character take ages to walk a couple of inches gives you plenty of time to ponder how time runs away…

  6. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Regarding slow pace, I’ve seen a LP that seemed to have the game running at half-speed. Could be a bug making the speed decrease. (there’s no run option but the walk shouldn’t be THAT slow)

    Compare:

    I should note I worked on this game (animation), so I am entirely biased as far as subjective assessments go, but it was a fun project.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    edit: double post (first comment got eaten by spam filter, but now it seems restored)

  8. TheWheel says:

    Intriguing game…