Perhaps the best indie game I demoed at PAX East (and I played a lot of them) was an iOS game called Tengami developed by Nyamyam Games. Before I sat down to give it a go, game creator Jennifer Schneidereit explained to me that Tengami is not really a game at all. While it features classic puzzle elements, it acts more like a visual experience the player reacts to than an objective game. All-in-all, Tengami added up to a unique, beautiful treat that I’m thankful I didn’t skip over.
I sat down with an iPad as the game booted up. There were two demos to try: ocean and forest. Being more of a woodsland guy than an aqua-lover, I opted to play the forest demo. A short cutscene played that showed words like “gone” and “forgotten” as a cherry blossom fell from a tree. And suddenly I was in the game.
Tengami is a multi-layered, side-scrolling puzzle game with 2D visuals set on a 3D plane. You play as an, as of yet, unnamed historical Japanese character in a pop-up book. By double tapping somewhere on the land, your character will take the shortest path there. I naturally began making my way to the right as the camera panned out to show me more of the map.
This game is gorgeous. The blue and purple paper craft artwork is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a game before. The gentle colors and artistic beauty of the world were definitely one of the highlights of my time with Tengami. I couldn’t wait to see what was next as I reached the edge of the screen and used a swipe of my finger to flip the paper to jump my character to the next page and continue onward.
As I made my way past streams under the light of the paper moon, I noticed how beautifully the music accompanied the visuals and calm serenity of the game. The sound design was just as calming and peaceful as the gameplay and visuals; I can easily picture this game being used as a stress reliever once it’s released.
Finally I made it to my first puzzle, if you can call it that. Glowing parts of the book are components that can be manipulated. Much like a real pop-up book, there are sliders and paper doors that can be moved and opened, indicated by a faint glow. A small fountain blocked my path, but by sliding my finger across it, the fountain “closed” and to make a flat path I could continue on.
After moving on, I noticed a wolf was following me from a short cliff above that I couldn’t reach. I came upon a door I had to progress through, but it was on the level above me with the wolf. I flipped a door below the ledge to cause a staircase to pop up so I could climb it, but the wolf suddenly howled and the staircase closed. Realizing the fruitlessness of this effort, I continued to the right, the wolf still following from above.
Eventually I reached a field with three other wolfs and a tree with four branches. Each branch had a set of wind chimes and a slider attached. I pulled the bottom one and one of the wolves howled. I pulled the next one up and nothing happened. Right away I understood that I had to pull them in a specific order to make every wolf howl. By experimenting for a few seconds, I found the correct combination. After each wolf howled, they all fell asleep. I made my way back, flipped the staircase back up, and continued through the door.
The other significant puzzle element I encountered included lowering and raising the water in a well in order to find an essential piece needed to open a gate. Throughout the rest of the demo, I flipped pages, opened more pop-ups, got confused a couple times, and reveled in the beauty of the world of Tengami. At the end of the demo, I found the cherry blossom that fell in the opening cutscene. After grabbing it, the demo concluded with more words echoing the themes of death and being forgotten that were stated at the beginning.
I had a blast with Tengami. I couldn’t get over how innovative the art and music was, and the simplistic gameplay and light puzzle elements added up to less of a game and more of a thoroughly enjoyable visual adventure as I toured my way through a Japanese pop-up book. Players will have to wait until the title releases in the summer before they can get their hands on it.