Papercraft, to me, is one of those eternally endearing art styles that loves to slip its way into the video game scene every so often. Like Tearaway or Paper Mario before it, Tengami promised a one-of-a-kind, papercraft adventure game that unfolds into dazzling set pieces and mystifying music before your eyes. In the time I spent with the game, I found everything in that last statement to be true with the exception of one word: game. Though Nyamyam, the developers, succeed in delivering a unique aesthetic that had me marveling at each backdrop, the lack of content or challenge in the actual gameplay left me with a sense of countering lackluster.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
Feudal Japan has never looked so good. The intricately crafted pop-up book style, well, pops with brilliance at every page turn. Seeing the layers of paper fold in realistic bends was an absolute treat as I progressed from chapter to chapter collecting cherry blossoms and reading haikus. I found myself more and more entranced with each new scene by the way the colors blended in the background, how the structures were formed and painted with such care. One particular landscape element that stuck with me was how water flowed in the pop-up book world. From a technical viewpoint, it is just a texture looping like a treadmill mat on a roller, but the fashion in which it’s decorated and animated gives it a visceral sense of water ebbing in this wholly papercraft world. Unique is definitely the word I’d use to describe the artistic style of Tengami, along with charming and beautiful.
The visuals, however, weren’t the only striking element to Tengami‘s aesthetic success. Tengami’s soundtrack and sound effects play a pivotal role in immersing the player in this papercraft fairy tale. The music heavily features the traditional shamisen, a Japanese guitar, coupled with a serene, synth accompaniment. Tracks change from chapter to chapter and each one impeccably complements the visual tone for their corresponding landscape. Along the same lines, the sound effects equally enhanced the atmosphere of the game, completing the immersion of being in a pop-up book. The “shhp” of each turning page, the gentle waves upon the water, the creaking of each screen door, the hushed crackling of torches — they made Tengami come alive.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
On the gameplay side of Tengami, there’s barely anything present. The game is advertised as an adventure game and I went in expecting as much with a few puzzles thrown in here and there to elevate it past “interactive storybook” status. What I found was specifically a point-and-click, puzzle adventure game that focuses on the first identifier in that description. There’s just so little to do in the world of Tengami beyond the initial hook of sightseeing. Puzzles are introduced but most of them are so simplistic that the answer is either blatantly obvious or so effortless that it took me five minutes on each just toying around with the given pieces until something fit. There was one puzzle I ran into that required some thinking — a vertical challenge that required me to pull tabs in a certain order while I moved my character on the platforms. It was an interesting challenge that employed the pop-up book mechanic extremely well. But it feels like the developers understood that as well because that same puzzle kept reappearing as the game continued and it eventually became stale. Halfway through the game, it’s very apparent that the obstacles are only there to justify Tengami as being a “game” rather than an artistic vehicle (which it is).
And when I say halfway through the game, that’s about thirty minutes. Tengami is an extremely short game. It took me a little over an hour to complete the story and I found myself staring at the main menu afterwards with only “New Game” present as a start option. The lack of additional scenarios or any incentive to revisit Tengami’s beautiful world left me disappointed. Though I understand that the length of the game might be a reflection of haikus and the ephemeral expressed within the game, there’s so much more potential for the pop-up book world. It is for this reason I’m not critiquing the game too harshly on the shortness of the game’s length, but it is there for anyone expecting a longer journey through Tengami.
Tengami is a charming morsel of eye candy that is more accurately an interactive showcase rather than a video game. The visuals, a unique, papercraft pop-up book style, are stunning to say the least; with each turn of the page, every clever detail is rendered perfectly, from the folding and unfolding of each set to the simulation of paper-made waterfalls and ponds. Same goes for the soundtrack, which complements each scene with a splendid, serene, Japanese fusion flair. But the game lacks substance. The puzzles are rarely puzzling and require very little effort to solve, even without all the pieces. They seem to be placed into Tengami for the sole purpose of allowing it to be classified as a video game. And, on top of the almost non-existent gameplay, the game’s extremely short length (about one hour) without any challenging obstacles, extras or replay value makes this a title that offers very little to the player outside of a spectacular art experience. I wouldn’t recommend Tengami to those who are looking for a good puzzle adventure, but I could see children enjoying this game very much. It’s not too difficult that they wouldn’t be able to play it, it’s colorful and inviting (I mean, it’s basically an electronic pop-up book) and it does offer a great opportunity for parents to introduce very young gamers to the medium.
Final Score: 7 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood