Man, I’ve been looking forward to this for months! It’s not often I preview a game and really wish I was playing the full thing. The reason for this is that with a preview you’re often playing an unfinished entity and although you get an idea of what that game might be like it usually is just that; an idea. Every now and again though, you feel like a game is done enough to form a very strong opinion on what you’re going to get. A few quality of life changes and it’s literally good to go. I got this feeling with Tandem: A Tale of Shadows when I played the demo earlier this year and I was gutted when it finished. I really wanted to score it there and then and tell you all to go out and get involved in this wonderous little puzzler. Well, now I can! If you want to read that slightly gushy preview before you read my even gushier review you can do that here.
I love puzzle games; this is absolutely one of my favorite genres. I just like using my head and applying a bit of logic to get the job done. There’s something so rewarding about solving a relatively complicated problem. You get to pat yourself on the back and feel a bit smug until the next one comes along and stonewalls you. My love of puzzles is not the reason I’m giving Tandem: A Tale of Shadows a rave review, (no spoilers or anything,) because when this genre isn’t done well the results are horrible. There’s nothing worse than a puzzle game that’s trying to be smarter than the player simply for the sake of it. You don’t want to be made to feel stupid by what you’re playing. Thankfully, Tandem doesn’t try to do this so we’re all good here.
If you’ve read my preview you’ll know this bit about the game so you can skip on a paragraph or so. If you haven’t Tandem is a game about a little girl called Emma and Fenton, a magical teddy bear. You will be taking the duo into a mysterious mansion in the wake of the disappearance of a little boy called Thomas Kane. Both of these characters will need to work in sync with each other to solve the game’s plethora of challenges, hence its name. That, as always, is the sum total of the plot I’m giving you. It stops being a mystery if I tell you what’s going on, best to uncover the story for yourselves.
Each character plays from a different viewpoint and this is something I love about Tandem. While playing in Emma’s shoes, you’ll be experiencing things from a top-down perspective. You’ll move her through the rooms of the mansion flipping switches, manipulating levers, and opening doors. Emma also carries a lantern which is a crucial item when you switch over to the fuzzy wall-walking teddy bear that you’re helping along with you. The moment you switch to Fenton the entire perspective shifts to a side-scrolling platformer. Interestingly though many of the platforms the little bear needs to reach are only accessible with the aid of Emma’s magical light.
Emma’s lantern throws shadows about the room and these build bridges for Fenton to walk on. It’s crucial that you position Emma correctly or you won’t be able to get your little buddy any further. The light play doesn’t end here. You will have to move certain items so that the light hits them in particular ways, thus creating the shadows needed. As you run through the different worlds of the game this mechanic is elaborated on but I’ll not go into further detail now. This is an interesting way to play and definitely gives you something to think about that’s a little outside the box.
In Tandem you won’t be able to complete any of the levels by using one character solo. You have to think about where both are positioned at all times. It’s not just a case of using Emma to make sure Fenton can get to where he’s going. Quite often you’ll need him to stand on switches that open doors for Emma to move through. On the boiler room level, there’s something with tentacles and a bad attitude lurking in the pools of oil that are scattered throughout the zone. Emma can’t drain these pools but her little buddy can, assuming you can get him to the levers he’ll be needing to pull. Again I’m not going to explain this in any more depth for fear of solving puzzles for you but this gives you a basic idea of what’s going on.
One of the things I love most about this little gem of a game is the graphics. The whole experience is a beautifully animated cartoon but with a very distinctively dark edge. Think what might happen if Tim Burton sat down and wrote a videogame. The mansion is wonderous as it is creepy and the fact that you’re seeing everything from the eyes of a child amplifies the eerie-ness. The fact that the setting is Victorian also helps this in my opinion. The sound score compliments all the dark mystery perfectly. The music is as moody as it is childish and it’s beautifully fitting for the aesthetic.
As I very briefly mentioned earlier the make or break on the puzzle genre, for me at least, is the difficulty. Tandem gives you a lovely difficulty curve and pulls you into the game gradually. Some of the puzzles felt hard but in most cases, they just needed a bit more thinking. At no point did I start losing interest because a challenge felt too difficult. There was also a sense of pride when I passed something that initially seemed quite tricky. Often you’ll find that you’ve missed something really simple so overthinking can actually be counterproductive. On the flip side of this, there are areas that are challenging enough that you won’t just sail through the game which can only be a good thing. There are secrets to be found aswell, which, in a puzzle game is awfully nice to see.
So where are my reservations then? There has to be something keeping this from being my favorite game of 2021, right? Well, no not really. The controls are fluid, the difficulty is bob on and the graphics are gorgeous. The storyline is really interesting and drip-fed just enough that you aren’t getting inundated with the plot when you just want to get on with the game. I’m actually sitting here trying to conjure up negatives and that in itself is quite telling. If I’m wracking my brains for things I don’t like, I’m not taking Tandem at face value. This is an absolute must-have in my opinion for fans of the puzzle genre amongst you. It is also, surprisingly, (not,) my favorite game this year and will be getting scored as such.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Well worth exploring
One hell of an adventure
If you’re a fan of the puzzle genre, Tandem is well worth experiencing. This title is innovating, alluring, and is grounded by a story that just makes you want to keep going. If you’re looking for something a little bit different over Christmas I would suggest you look no further than this.