Platform: Wii U eShop, iOS
Release Date: November 13, 2014
This review is based on the Wii U version of the game
Though there have been a number of great eShop games over the Wii U's two year lifespan, it's surprising to see that few actually base the game's design around the Gamepad's touchscreen. Enter Tengami, an atmospheric adventure game by developer Nyamyam that's set inside a Japanese pop-up book; a title that was developed from the ground up for use with a touch screen. This results in one of the most unique uses of the Wii U Gamepad outside of Nintendo's first-party titles yet, though it also doesn't quite reach the level of ambition I hoped it would achieve.
Artistically speaking, Tengami is gorgeous, colorful and really does look like a piece of literature that's come to life with its illustrations. As such, its pop-up book presentation holds tremendous appeal and is a great fit for something like the Wii U's Gamepad. However, because of its touch-based nature, you will be looking at the Gamepad much more than the TV screen since all of the interaction demands that you look at where you're touching or pointing at.
The story centers around restoring life to a dead tree, though there isn't much to it beyond that and a few cryptic haiku poems you'll see at the end of levels. In each area, you'll guide the protagonist around by using the stylus to point to where you want him to go. There will occasionally be certain spots on the screen that you'll be able to interact with (which are represented by little glowing auras) which will give the player the ability to initiate a pop-up sequence, where by flipping the area (or the page) over, it will change into something else through pop-up mechanics accordingly. For example, if you come to a river you can't cross, you may be able to flip the river over so that a bridge will pop up and appear.
This type of design accounts for most of the puzzle gameplay throughout and is actually similar in some ways to the critically acclaimed mobile game Monument Valley, where the idea is to manipulate and change the environment in order to proceed. In a sense, Tengami has more of an epic feel than the aforementioned game due to the sense that the protagonist is traveling through different areas (and eventually by boat and such). However, it feels as though the game never gets too ambitious with its puzzles. The first level more or less serves as a sort of tutorial and thus is a bit easy, and the game only truly offers a semblance of challenge in its final level.
Unfortunately, this is the game's biggest weak point: it finishes just as it feels like it's getting started. It's very short, with my overall game time coming out to just over an hour and a half when the credits started to roll. There are ten hidden Miiverse stamps you can find throughout each stage as well, but you can find most of them on your initial playthrough, meaning that it won't add too much replay value. That isn't to say the game isn't enjoyable, however; in hindsight, it's definitely one of the most interesting and visually enjoyable experiences I've played through this year.
The game thrives as an atmospheric piece, making great use of locations such as waterfalls, abandoned shrines, and forests, complete with an ambience created by real sounds (wolves howling, water trickling etc.) and soothing but haunting melodies by composer David Wise. There are few tracks and they're nice to listen to, even if they aren't necessarily his most memorable work.
Overall, the real star of the game is the pop-up nature of the world. It's highly entertaining to see how the screen is manipulated so that the world changes from an exterior shot to suddenly being inside a shrine, and then how it alters the current scene further through pop-ups to change angles or even rooms. The super short, overall length makes Tengami tough to recommend at its $9.99 price point, but if you're more interested in the artful experience and seeing what the pop-up world has to offer, definitely consider checking it out.
+ Beautiful visuals
+ Pop-up mechanics are pretty neat
+ David Wise's soundtrack is atmospheric and pleasing to listen to
- Extremely short
- The game's design never quite gets that ambitious; mechanics don't evolve
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
Tengami is an impressive visual and atmospheric experience that falls a little bit short when it comes to gameplay.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Wii U eShop code provided by the publisher.