On the surface, Tengami feels like one of those rare iOS game that only come around a few times each year. It’s not an endless runner, it’s not a Candy Crushing puzzler, it’s not even a twitchy arcade action game. It’s a slower, introspective adventure title—the kind of game that defies every expectation for what a mobile game could be. But that doesn’t mean Tengami is everything it could have been.
Tengami is a slow-paced adventure game all based around the idea of Japanese pop-up art. Now the concept of a game with pop-up or paper art isn’t a new one—it was a style made famous by the Paper Mario series. However, Tengami’s art style really does take this concept to another level. Everything in Tengami takes place inside an actual pop-up book that is shown in the game’s introduction. New areas are opened by swiping from right to left once you’ve navigated the character to the correct location.
Tengami is gorgeous. The quiet aesthetic is a refreshingly accurate take on ancient Japanese culture. There is a sense of mysticism and mystery about the characters, environment and sounds of Tengami’s world—each piece of it having been created with a high degree of crafty handmade loveliness.
Unfortunately the game itself doesn’t always match up with the mysterious nature of its presentation. Tengami features plenty of just walking around and observing the beautiful environments—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP is one of my favorite games of all time, and it famously was not more than a walk through the woods. Tengami clearly pulls a lot of influence from that game, but the difference here is that the developers chose to mark each section with glowing orbs and markers that tell you exactly where you need to go and what you need to do.
My complaint isn’t that Tengami is too easy—it’s just that the discovery and mystery is entirely lost when a game becomes nothing more than following a set of “go here, click here” instructions. Although the puzzles themselves are diverse, by the end of this short game you won’t have had the “Aha!” moment that makes it click in your head. That’s because Tengami is primarily an adventure game about finding bright shiny things that will help you move onto the next stage. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it feels like an entirely different genre than the developers set out to make. The result is a game with an incredible amount of potential and ambition, but that lacks the execution to make it a truly outstanding iOS game.
Luke Larsen is the tech editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @lalarsen11.