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Wot I Think: Tengami

Folded

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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.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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