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REVIEW / Tengami (PC)

 

Art games are generally hit or miss.  Some appreciate the games for the aesthetics and don’t mind the lackluster gameplay, and others feel the games are empty.  I usually find myself in the latter camp.  It isn’t so easy to define Tengami though.  It’s an art game, a puzzle game, and an adventure game.  It’s also also very short game; it took me about 90 minutes.  It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but there is something to be said about a game being more than the sum of its parts.

 

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Tengami takes place in a pop-up book filled with beautiful Japanese art.  There isn’t much in the way of a plot; your character, a samurai of some sort, is definitely looking for something.  However, the game keeps it vague.  The end gives some manner of hint, but even that doesn’t really tie things together neatly.  The only thing that’s clear is that the samurai has a journey ahead of him, be it physical or psychological.  The player helps him by manipulating objects and turning the book’s pages to solve  puzzles and help him progress through each of three  chapters.

 

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Mechanically, Tengami is primarily a point and click adventure.  Players move the samurai by clicking on the “ground” (remember, all of this takes place in a book.)  Along the way, some objects or areas will glow, indicating player interaction.  You can unfold flaps to create a set of stairs, for example, or collect items to put them back where they belong.  There’s no direct indication of what you need to do at any point; that would go against the game’s atmosphere.  Generally it is clear enough, and most of the puzzles are pretty quick to solve.  Once you get into it, its clear that the game has more puzzles than exploration.  There is a lot of creativity on display with the puzzle design.  Anything can be part of the solution, even the turning of the pages.  Your goal at the end of each chapter is to find a flower, and often its location is clear long before you can see how to get it.

 

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As interesting as the puzzles can be, it’s immediately clear that the atmosphere is the true star of Tengami.  You can pause the game at almost any point to get a hint with no penalty, and there’s even an official walkthrough.  The developers clearly don’t want players to miss any of the interactive world.  The music is soft and, dare I say, atmospheric.  The water color backgrounds, lack of any true enemies, and (mostly) straightforward puzzles ensure a peaceful experience.  There’s nothing jarring here to take you away from the experience.

 

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This is all well and good, but there is one major issue plaguing Tengami: its length.  Again, it only took about an hour and a half to finish the entire game.  And because the game is linear and based on puzzles, there isn’t much replay value.  At $9.99 it’s about the same price as a trip to the movie theater, and depending on the movie, it likely doesn’t last as long.  This comparison is especially notable because of Tengami‘s focus on aesthetics.

 

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Games like Tengami can be great if you take them for what they are.  This isn’t the best game of the year, or a superior alternative to big budget games.  Fortunately, it doesn’t seem that the creators of this title intend for it to be a mic drop to the gaming industry.  It is what it is, and taken as the short but beautiful experience that it’s meant to be, Tengami is a great game.  But for $10 one can get so much more.  If you are able to find it for a lower price, I recommend giving it a try.  Otherwise, save your money for a less fleeting experience.

 

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