I immediately knew that I would become a writer when I was extremely young. One day I wrote my own novel in crayon, with my mother helping me bind it in yarn. Stories and their particular form of embodiment have always fascinated me, whether it be in paper, film, pixels, and so on. Tengami is a game after my own heart, an adventure game in the literal form of a pop-up book storybook, with levels flowing between turned pages and your cursor changing the landscape with a simple, tactile switch.
The challenge after establishing such an evocative theme and style is then filling it out with content. Making sure that the story filling the paper, film, pixels, and so on, does the concept justice. And this is where Tengami starts to feel underdeveloped in the most disappointing way: it lacks the imagination that its premise demands.
Tengami has a simple story at its heart: you are a nameless character navigating a powerfully realized traditional Japanese world influenced by the culture's art and papercrafts. You navigate this world simply by clicking to a point on the 2.5-D environment. You primarily interact with the pop-up book adventure by flipping between pages, pulling tabs to expose new objects, folding down already erect paperworks, you get the idea. Tengami runs with its storybook format, but perhaps not as wild as one would hope.
As a fairly short game, with my playtime clocking in well under 2-hours, Tengami repeats puzzles far too often to justify its already brief adventure. The beginning of Tengami is promising, with my mouth agape at the startling beautiful naturalistic opening levels. But when it came to actually interacting with Tengami, I begun to find myself alarmingly bored.
As Tengami is so dedicated to its storybook style, it also feels incredibly limited by this from a design perspective. Anything you can interact with is immediately evident by a pull-tab or other such pop-up book elements. This means most of the puzzles can be easily deciphered by simply click or pulling at a couple of these folding or pull sections, and the puzzle will almost immediately solve itself.
Sadly Tengami's most involved puzzle amounts to a "Where's Waldo" mechanic where you have to slowly flip between specific levels to spot hidden symbols, count all of them, then insert your recorded number into the puzzlebox interrupting your progress. It's kind of clever the first time you encounter it, but startlingly, Tengami reuses this exact same puzzle again very late in the game. This is frustrating as Tengami is already supremely short, so that copy-pasting puzzle types feels fairly lazy. Even more disappointing, Tengami reuses more puzzle types than just the aforementioned one, which adds insult to injury.
It's worth saying again how beautiful Tengami is, as honestly it was the only thing convincing me to flip to the next page. To my sorrow though, not all of Tengami's production feels as well developed. The soundtrack frequently cuts in and out between songs, sometimes simply disappearing in the middle of a track for no conceivable reason. This is depressing as otherwise it's quite a nice, airy atmospheric score that would've absorbed me. Such was not achieved with Tengami's glitchy soundtrack.
It's hard to get too worked-up over Tengami's design and production flaws with it being such a short game, but such a fact just made me more frustrated that developer Nyamyam couldn't have been more able to fill Tengami with the imaginative content its otherwise beautiful storybook adventure deserved. Conceiving a brilliant concept is an important part of the creative process, but in reality a small part that wholly relies on the creator's execution to bring it to life, its thoughtfulness and artisity popping out through paper, film or pixels. Tengami couldn't fill its digital pages with a story worthy of its premise.
TWO OUT OF FIVE
(A bad game with an abundance of flaws which outweigh its positive aspects)