Tengami is a game which pretends to be a Japanese pop-up book. You turn pages, slide the paper bits, and solve puzzles in this game. Let’s see what kind of story it wants to tell.
Tengami—which is probably meant to evoke the Japanese word 紙 (“kami”, meaning “paper”) from the word 折り紙 (“Origami”, literally “folded paper”)—is a story about a Samurai on a mission to save the world bring three cherry blossoms back to a forlorn tree. Not earth-shattering, perhaps, but decidedly zen in nature. In practice, the game plays as a pop-up story book. You use the Wii Gamepad to tap where you want the Samurai fellow to go, and he plods there. Slowly. Occasionally, obstacles will get in his way, and you’ll have to solve a puzzle either by tapping elements, or by sliding elements around, or by flipping pages back and forth. This is no fast-paced action game. It’s very deliberate and slow. It’s probably meant to be savoured.
It’s an achingly beautiful game, though, with the landscapes and set pieces looking very much like living papercraft. The scenery is reminiscent of ancient Japan, with beautiful paper towers and torii scattered around, along with the iconic sakura blossoms. Tengami is less of a game and more of an experience. It’s a beautiful experience to be sure, but the game is fairly short, too. You can complete it in a single afternoon, and since the puzzles are not incredibly complex, you won’t be taxed in the cranial department either. Still, some of the puzzles are wonderful to experience: one variety of puzzle has you flipping vertical segments of a cliff face to reveal different bits of stairway, and you need to get your little paper Samurai up the rocks by revealing and hiding the various bits of the rock. It’s difficult to explain without experiencing it. If you get REALLY stuck, there is a hint system in place, but I doubt you’ll need to make much use of it. Once you’ve figured out how a puzzle works, you’ll be fairly good for the rest of the game.
Tengami is a beautiful game and an enjoyable experience, but not much beyond that. There’s very little replay value, and you’ll be wanting more of it by the end. The catch-22 here is that if any more were added, it would reduce the enjoyability of the game unless the entire system were overhauled, meaning more gameplay elements, feature creep, and so on. What to do? On the other hand, I’d pay willingly for the game’s soundtrack (ooh! Look! It’s available on the developer’s Bandcamp site!). The music—by David Wise, composer of Donkey Kong Country’s music—is possibly even more beautiful than the scenery, and my dear reader, that really is saying something. Here’s a sampler of the beautifully haunting soundtrack. Trust me, you’ll love it.
I’d recommend this game to those people who enjoy arty experiences in their video games, and who don’t mind a slower pace. It feels a lot like games such as The Unfinished Swan (if not in looks, at least in spirit), and its typical of the indie scene games, which seem to be pushing games toward an art form. No zombie hunting here, but if you’re up for a more meditative experience, you’ll not find anything more zen on the eShop.
Verdict: 8 paper prawns out of 10
Platform: Nintendo Wii U (reviewed), iOS
Age Rating: None