Tengami Review: Rage Against Peacefulness

Tengami is a game I’ve wanted to play for a very long time now. I’ve waited – patiently for Nyamyam to get their act together and put it onto GOG, but that doesn’t seem to have happened, so either one of two things occurred: they never tried, or they tried and GOG turned them down. I won’t ever know, because I’m not part of that particular loop.

Having said that, if GOG did turn them down, I can sort of see why.

Originally released for iPhone/Pad in 2014, the team at Nyamyam have had a couple of months to polish this release and stick it onto desktop computers. I’m not sure what they did with the couple of months, but it seems [from my mild reading] that the only couple of extra things they did was bump up the resolution. The game remains functionally the same game that shipped to iDevices last year.

This means that the port is lazy. And that’s sad, because this is an independent developer and – of course – independent developers need all the help they can get. How is this port lazy? Let me count the ways.

For one thing, the load times are somewhat crazy. It’s a game in which the conceit is that everything is a bit of papercraft. Things fold and unfold at your touch. For such a simple game, you’d think the load times would be short, but nope. While you’re loading a level, you can update your Twitter status and possibly even respond to a handful of your friends while you’re there.

Then we have the interface. Sometimes, it’s just plain unintuitive. It’s also – by way of being lazy – just the Windows cursor. That’s right. A game with a very beautiful, quite serene Japanese design aesthetic uses the Windows cursor to guide you along. Worse still? When you use something that’s interactive, it switches over to the hyperlink hand cursor. As if you’re about to click on an URL in a web page.

This is a door puzzle.  I have to twist the shapes so that they all line up, but there's the distinct possibility that I might get it wrong.  But getting out of this puzzle is...not intuitive.
It’s time for a little Colonel Abrahams: OH GOD I’M TRAPPED! LIKE A FOOL, I’M IN A CAGE!

So, I mentioned that the interface is sometimes unintuitive. An example of this is when you encounter a close-up of a puzzle. It’s almost always plain as day how you get the close-up, but good luck getting out of the close-up once you’re done fiddling and you haven’t found the solution. For those in dire need: I think you have to click in the upper-right hand corner of the puzzle to escape it.  I’m not sure. I eventually ended up clicking all over the place, sometimes, just to back out of these scenes. This could have easily been fixed: the same glowy-hotspot-laden design that is used for nearly all the interactive activities you can perform could have been utilized in the upper right hand corner of these puzzles with an “exit puzzle” dialogue [or something like it.]

This problem, coupled with another interface sin [not always telling you the rules for the interface] doesn’t really help matters along, either. There’s a section where you have to light a bunch of bonfires and – as per the rest of the design – you think you’re meant to be on land so that you can activate the bonfires. That’s how everything has gone up until now, but nope. In a not-at-all-intuitive-design-shift, you’re meant to drag the fires from one pyre to another.

This particular activity is meant to culminate in you activating a light house, and here, the laziness just stretches to infinity and beyond! When you light that pyre, the close up scene shows it, but the travelling scene does not, leaving you in doubt of what you’ve achieved.

One last thing I ought to mention, before we talk about the good stuff: be prepared for a game that aggravates your carpal tunnel syndrome if you have that. In order for you to get anywhere, you will have to click – multiple times – to make the samurai walk anywhere. There’s no keyboard control at all. [not even wasd]

I did say it was a lazy port.

Which is all pretty sad.

I’ve spent most of this review lambasting Tengami and I’ve probably lost most of anyone who was interested in it, but I want to say this now: this is a ridiculously beautiful game. If the port hadn’t been so lazy and the design conceits hadn’t been so silly, I would have been heaping praise on it.

When Tengami gets it right, the mood is totally set.  In this picture, we see autumn colours everywhere.  There's the tinkling of a waterfall in the background and everything is serene and beautiful.
Ridiculously beautiful landscapes, ahoy!

For one thing, it’s one of the most gorgeous looking games I’ve seen this year. For the sake of reference, this game has to contend with The Dig. The Dig is easily one of the most beautiful games I have ever played.

The entire idea here is that Tengami is all about the walk of a Samurai-like character that – I presume – is stuck in a dream. [that’s what the introductory story lead me to believe, anyway. The truth of the matter – once you finish the game – is something different, again.]

You will walk - from left to right, for the most part - throughout the entire game seeking blossoms.  Here, I show off an actual section where you have made your way to one of the blossoms.
Let me wipe the sweat from my brow after all that walking. I’ve found a blossom!

His dream takes him across the seasons of the year as he tries to find blossoms for the tree he’s sitting under. Each of these seasons is created in a papercraft-world that allows you to fold and unfold it whenever you hit a particular hotspot.

As your character walks from left to right, a stirring, neo-Japanese score [by David Wise! This is possibly the best reason to own this game.] plays in the background. It’s all really pretty mellow and I can absolutely see what the design intent was: create a game that’s surreal and gentle and beautiful so that the player can get lost in this world for a little while. And for a while, it works. But then, the design does ridiculous things and that tranquil state of mind you had comes crashing down.

The other, rather interesting thing about this particular game is how it rewards you. When you solve a section, it renders a little haiku about that section. I love this idea – it is completely in keeping with the serene nature of the game and it does make sense to me that there would be “three sections,” [since the game is basically a haiku in and of itself] but the tree you’re filling in makes it seem like there will be four sections to the game, so when it ends, [rather abruptly] you end up being jarred from your reverie, instead of being pulled further into it.

Should you buy it? This is an indie game. Normally, I’d suggest that you pay full price for it if you’re interested, but the PC port was so lazy that I can’t recommend it for the current going price of $10. I love indies, I seriously do, but they need to learn – as much as AAA developers need to learn that if their products are going to be valuable, then they need to put the effort in. Tengami is short, but beautiful. It could have been amazing for the mood it’s trying to evoke in the player, but all the jarring stuff that dumps you out of the game makes me think that it would be better if you bought this on a whim during a sale.