Tengami is one of those games that can be described as short and sweet. Short, because I finished it in just over an hour; and sweet because I spent the entire time smiling. In fact, I was smiling for a while afterwards, it’s really left quite an impression.
Tengami is brought to us by Nyamyam, a UK based independent, three-man game developer. They came together in 2010 with the simple ambition of making games in a fun and meaningful fashion, and to “bring a little magic into other people’s lives” through their self expression. Inspired by ancient Japanese folk lore and fairy tales, evident in the game art and score, they set out to achieve their goal in 2014 with the release of Tengami – an atmospheric interactive adventure game originally released for iOS, with a Wii U port in November 2014 and a port for Windows on the 15th of January this year.
If you like complex story lines and digging deep into characters and plots, then it’s probably a coin toss as to whether you’ll like Tengami. The story is fairly simple, as is the character and his motivation. Aside from prompts, instructions, and short poems at the end of the level, there is no text to tell the story, so it’s entirely contextual. The basic gist is as follows. You play an unnamed and mostly unremarkable man who has a beautiful blossom tree. At the start of our story his tree is barren, save for one blossom, and he embarks on a quest that takes him to the ends of the world to restore his beloved tree to its flourishing state so that he may, once again, rest beneath its scented canopy. Of course, the details of his motivations, thoughts, and feelings are entirely up to the player, as there are no allusions to these given – we are free to give the story our own context.
The art style is beautiful, with the world rendered in bold Japanese-style water colours and displayed as a pop-up book. The colours are striking and pleasing to the eye – even to those of us who are colour blind, as mostly primary colours are used. You can walk to the edge of the book and see the wall and table where it’s sitting, which is something I greatly enjoyed. Interacting with the world is done as you would with a pop-up book too, with folding tabs, rotating objects, various scaled page turns, and sliding tags. It’s simple and joyous, and I love it. This translates really well into various – and well done in my opinion – 3D puzzles, which the world is teeming with. At a few points in the game, you have to literally unfold the correct path, creating the correct sequence of stairs to climb a cliff for example. It also pleases me that the character is literally two dimensional – he is flat, like he would be in a similar physical book. Turning sideways, he all but disappears.
Mechanically the game is just as simple, which is directly attributed to its touch-screen heritage. All interaction is done with the mouse, including menu interaction to my mild irritation. While in context it makes sense, and it absolutely works with the gameplay, not being able to press escape on menus to go back is a bit annoying. Likewise being unable to press escape to even access the menu. It’s not really a major issue however, it’s not that frustrating on the whole, it’s barely noticeable unless you’re easily irked by such things. I am, clearly. On the subject of menus, the options screen has literally three options. That’s it, nothing else. Sure, I don’t expect advanced key mapping or graphical options, but no volume controls? Come on, it’s not a stretch to imagine that some people might want to change the game volume, even if it’s just a master volume slider. Again, I imagine this is because such features aren’t needed on mobile devices, but it doesn’t translate well to other platforms.
Another thing that doesn’t really translate well is the “swipe” motion. Trying to make a page turning motion with a mouse cursor is somewhat awkward, especially at first. On the plus side, you do kind of get used to it, but it sometimes doesn’t quite work. From time to time you’re likely to get stuck part way through turning a page, or spinning a gear. There are pros and cons to either side, using a mouse and cursor vs touch. With the mouse I feel like I have greater precision and can position the “tap” in a much more useful way, but the game was designed around touch and gestures, so using its native input would probably give a much better experience. That said, I never once experienced frustration or contempt for the controls. They suit the style very well, even if a mouse and cursor isn’t as tactually pleasing as the touch input would be.
I’m not ashamed to say that I love this game, as short and sweet as it is. In fact, it’s its shortness and sweetness that I love. Tengami is a brief and beautiful respite, a gilt and painted island on the sea of gaming. I feel like it’s a nice change of pace and scenery that isn’t overly taxing, that gives one a chance to relax away from the usual bright lights and forced dialogue of gaming. The simplicity of the story shows that you don’t need hundreds of lines of dialogue or monologue to provide an emotive experience in an interesting world. Silence sometimes works too. While I may not play it again for a while, maybe a few months maybe more, I’ll certainly come back for a rest in its watercolour pages in due time.