Imagine Paper Mario with more class and less nattering. Now throw him into a Japanese tableau, add a haunting David Wise soundtrack and you’ll come up with something resembling Tengami.
Taking the ingenious form of a pop-up book, UK indie developer Nyamyam invite you to flick through the dusty pages of an ancient Japanese fairy tale. Guiding a lone man through a 2D side-scroller, Tengami is essentially a point and click adventure with a twist. The delicately crafted world literally opens up in front of you upon manipulating the folds.
Platforms: iOS, Wii U, Windows, OSX
Embarking on a search for flowers to replenish a dying cherry blossom tree, seasons change, and the passage of snow or falling of leaves uncovers new landscapes to traverse, each with a handful of puzzles to complete. Our silent protagonist becomes part of the creases as he folds into a scene, meshing with the paper constructions and reappearing when the new structure reveals itself.
Using a gorgeous pastel palette, Tengami’s landscapes are awash with duo-tone watercolours; from a blend of blue and purple hues to a mesh of red and green. Whether exploring luscious gardens, barren mountains or dark caves, the urge to condense Tengami into a framed screenshot persists.
Depending on your level of Zen, the laborious pace the wanderer adopts is more annoying than relaxing. With each click, he finds the right way and won’t attempt to go somewhere inaccessible, so when his slow movements begin to irk, you can’t simply drown him in the water.
Just as the player pulls, pushes and pokes the landscape unfolding before them, Nyamyam have manipulated the gaming genre in a bid to be creative. Opting for artistic flourish over immersive storytelling or demanding gameplay is a risky move.
The focus is on uncovering wisdom rather than overcoming obstacles as a means of personal progression, though the nature of this sought-after knowledge is unclear, despite the pensive haikus awaiting at the recovery of each flower. Assuming that Nyamyam decided to be oblique and didn’t simply get lazy, the moral of this tale is largely left up to the players’ interpretation.
A free walkthrough is available on Nyamyam’s website, suggesting that the puzzles were created solely to keep the player awake. Building bridges, finding missing pieces and counting various symbols form the backbone of the lacklustre puzzles.
Paper crafts being a popular tool for educating the young, Nyamyam have at least put thought into their chosen architectural tool. The story of Sadako Sasaki and the one thousand origami cranes springs to mind, lending an emotive edge to the craft.
Like origami, Tengami employs the same aesthetic to transform a would-be flat landscape into a finished sculpture worthy of storytelling. The player engages in this craft, more-so on iOS by physically touching and shifting the scenery.
Tengami’s style is similar to Journey’s technique of eliciting a response from players by subtly weaving a narrative through visual cues and gameplay, though the former lacks the same replay value. While the references to Japanese literary and cultural heritage encourage further learning, their inclusion is often random and at the expense of rewarding gameplay. Tengami lacks truly immersive gameplay, as its puzzles require a light head scratch at times, but nothing strenuous.
Tengami will likely be dismissed by some due to an obvious lack of action, but no matter its quirks, a book deserves to be finished. Its extreme brevity means you’ll be turning the final page in about 90 minutes. While this wordless piece isn’t by any means revolutionary, it’s at least an attempt to close the divide between games and art.