Development studio Nyamyam prides itself on being founded with the primary purpose of making games that are fun and meaningful. This is a company that openly states that through great love and attention, it strives to create beautifully crafted games that bring a little magic into people’s lives. This is a small band of Rare alumni that's now released its début game, Tengami, a title which embodies all of the above with astonishing success.
Tengami is an adventure game that takes place within a pop-up book sporting a distinct art style, which merges the setting of Feudal Japan with the look and feel of traditional Japanese arts and crafts. Using the Wii U GamePad touch screen, you guide a lone adventurer through this fantastical world in his quest to revive a metaphorical cherry blossom tree. In addition to telling him where to go, your role also requires you to interact with his unorthodox environment, manipulating the pop-up surroundings to open up otherwise inaccessible paths and solve puzzles.
The way in which the aesthetics and the interactive elements come together is flawlessly executed: this is a game world that makes you want to explore it and, what’s more, lets you play around with it in such a fundamental way. Turning the page to change scene will, for example, gradually collapse a magnificent landscape while making an ostentatious piece of Japanese architecture rise — all in real time. It looks beautiful, and is crafted with such precision and care that it’s hard to believe that this is the work of such a small development team. It’s further complemented by wonderfully authentic soundtrack — composed by the legendary David Wise of Rare fame — which incorporates traditional Japanese instruments. It’s undeniably successful at augmenting the feelings of mystery, wonder and isolation you experience as you play.
It must be noted that Tengami is a deliberately slow-paced game, and one which is designed to be relaxing. Given that it’s entirely reliant on the GamePad’s touch screen, it’s best enjoyed when played off-TV with headphones on. It’s an experience that commands your undivided attention on an audiovisual and gameplay level — to get lost in, if you will. Of course, it does also output to the TV screen, meaning that it is fully possible to enjoy it with a partner — especially the puzzle-solving elements — but it nevertheless works best as a solitary experience.
The puzzles themselves are cerebral in nature, and at no point does the game demand lightning-fast reactions or expert precision. It’s about exploring the environments in most instances, paying attention to things and working out how to change the landscape to open up new paths. This approach works well with the theme, which primarily exists to draw you in and wow you with its unique visual design.
Feeling immersed in the world isn’t hard when it looks and sounds as stunning as it does, and the touch input is the final coordinating piece that helps to seal your interest. Interacting with the game’s world is incredibly accurate, responsive and, above all, intuitive. Text descriptions are kept to a minimum, mainly because they’re often not needed (although there is a hint system should you get stuck). It’s seamlessly designed and deliberately playful; only by playing around with the environments can you discover what actually needs to be done. If there’s one criticism we have when it comes to the user interface, it’s the inclusion of collectible Miiverse stamps, or rather how the game overtly alerts you each time you find one. While collectibles can be a nice touch, and may even extend the replay value of the title, they create a rather obvious disconnect between you and your immersion in the world in this particular instance. The absence of Wii Remote pointer controls to enjoy the experience more intuitively on the big screen is a minor disappointment.
In terms of replay value, it’s worth highlighting that Tengami is a noticeably short game. With that said, you’re not left at the end desperately wanting more. While it can be easily completed within a single afternoon, the relaxed nature of the game means that there is some benefit to spreading out your playthrough over a two or three sessions. In fact, it's structured to accommodate this approach with regular, evenly spaced points that are good for stopping and picking up from at a later point.
Of course, it’s only rational to factor in Tengami’s asking price when considering its length, not to mention that it has already been released on mobile devices at a lower price point. This really is one of those games where you shouldn’t determine its value by working out how much of an experience you’re getting per pound or dollar. Tengami is something that everyone should at least try because what it offers is very unique; just be warned that if you opt to play it on Wii U that you will be paying a premium for a version that doesn’t do much more than its mobile counterpart, and one that relies on the lower, fuzzier resolution of the GamePad screen as opposed to an iPad's sharper display.
Tengami is a masterfully designed game that delivers a level of quality that few other Wii U eShop games are able to match. It’s a wonderful audiovisual experience that assaults the senses, and one that’s enhanced further as a result of its intuitive user interface and touch control input. The painstaking effort that has gone into crafting such a unique, complex and beautiful art style inspired by pop-up books is staggering, and this feature alone makes Tengami a game that even the slightly curious should look into.
It’s a short game, and while that may deliberately be the case in order to make it a more relaxing and laid-back experience, it’s not the sort of game you will frequently play through over and over again. When you factor in the game’s asking price — and the fact that you can get more or less the exact same experience for a fair bit less on mobile devices — Tengami on Wii U may not look like it offers great value for money. Price aside, this is definitely a game you should experience in some form or another, even if the only way for you to play it is on Nintendo’s home system.