Tengami has interesting visuals, good music, and two decent puzzles. I want to get that out of the way right now because the rest of this will be unabashedly negative. This is a game I hate so much that I uninstalled it as soon as I was finished like its pretentiousness was somehow poisoning my computer. This is a game that lasts something like an hour but felt 10 times that long because of how tedious the gameplay somehow manages to be. This is a game that took me from optimistic to “what the hell is this garbage?” in the span of something like 15 minutes. It’s almost impressive how bad this game is, and if it had lasted just a bit longer, I could see it becoming one of those rare games that ends with me swearing off an entire studio/individual developer for life (never again, Ragnar Tornquist). Fortunately, Tengami is mercifully short and easily forgotten, so the worst that can be said of it is that it’s painfully pretentious and so comically un-fun to play that you’ll feel compelled to pick up another game—any other game—and play that instead.
Let’s talk about the non-story
They say less is more, but if you give players nothing to latch on to, the best you can hope for is for that “more” to be multiplying by zero; Tengami opens with a samurai sitting next to a cherry blossom tree that’s losing its blossoms for winter, and that’s about it as far as the story is concerned. His entire journey is to find three weird magical blossoms hidden in previous seasons that can restore the tree, but apart from some bad poetry that has no relevance to anything, there’s nothing else to grab on to. The samurai never speaks, nor are there NPCs to provide dialogue. You really have to come up with your own interpretation of what’s happening. Personally, the slow movement speed and random ability to jump between seasons had me viewing the game as a story of a time-traveling samurai with a twisted ankle who’s on a quest to save a tree that’s lost its blossoms because he’s too dumb to understand that being a normal part of winter.
Slow movement speed, no automatic transitions
This game plays out a lot like an adventure game minus the story (which is pretty much the point of the genre—hopefully that helps to paint a picture of just how hollow Tengami is), which means lots of walking around and interacting with things. You’ll occasionally get an item and use it somewhere else, but most of the time you’re just interacting with things and walking around. Unbelievably, both of these manage to be fraught with problems. For one, the samurai’s movement speed is about half of what would be comfortable, and there are two puzzles designed to hide symbols you need to remember, so you can easily end up slowly walking back and forth while looking. This is maddening, and unlike most modern adventure games, the pop-up aesthetic requires you to manually turn the page for every area transition, so there’s no feature to double-click and automatically load the next area. Then there’s interacting with things, which only works when a ripple effect happens to indicate that it’s available to use. You can see this in the first few seconds of the video above where I try to open the cave (or whatever it is) before reaching it, only for the game to refuse to let me use it until I’m closer. These two problems combine to make playing Tengami feel like a serious chore.
The puzzles are terrible
Like I said, there are two decent puzzles in the game. The others are either entirely nonsensical (like when you have to tap a bell to change the season and find an object in wintertime that lets you fix a dial to open a door so that bells that already existed in the season you started in can actually be interacted with even though nothing you did would actually change anything) to just plain tedious (forcing you to slowly backtrack and count hidden symbols or find symbols hidden in area transitions—these are so horribly tedious that I included the solutions in the screenshots at the end of this review). I knew this would be the case, too, because the very first puzzle gives you 4 wind chimes and leaves you to figure out that you have to play from the lowest tone to the highest to lull nearby wolves to sleep. Nothing happens if you play the chimes randomly, and there’s nothing that gives the player any indication of the correct order. You literally just have to guess until you get to the right answer, and while this isn’t necessarily difficult, it speaks to the kind of bad puzzle design that plagues the game. What makes this so disappointing is that there are only a handful of puzzles in the game; I didn’t count, but I’d believe it if someone told me that there were fewer than 10 of them.
It’s even surprisingly glitchy
One part of the game early on kept causing an aggravating popping sound for some reason, though I didn’t get a video of that. I did, however, get a video of my character getting stuck and freaking out while the pathfinding kept trying to reach the spot I clicked to move to. This kind of stuff isn’t game-breaking or even as annoying as the bugginess in Spate or Never Alone, but it’s still surprising, and it speaks to the game’s less-than-stellar quality as a whole.
I hope you like load times
When you open up Tengami, the very first thing you see is an unskippable splash screen that lasts 13 and a half seconds. You see this every time you start the game. I suppose it’s not surprising, then, that the game itself is littered with comparably horrendous loading times that last between 20-40 (ish) seconds. This isn’t a massively detailed or large game, so having worse loading times than Final Fantasy XIII-2 (which was unacceptable even for that much more graphically demanding game) is mind-blowing. How does this kind of thing even happen?
But hey, it’s pretty and sounds good
Like I said at the start, this game is visually interesting and has good music. The graphics are like a pop-up book, with the twisted ankle samurai’s movement being reminiscent of moving around in Paper Mario (though clicking to move like in an adventure game, obviously). It’s all very colorful, too, with the focus being on color and shapes more than detailed textures. This looks very unique and ended up being one of the few things I appreciated. Speaking of which, the music was composed by David Wise, who sounded familiar when I saw his name in the credits. Turns out he worked at Rare for a long stretch and has worked on the music for titles like Donkey Kong Country and Sorcery!, but like in Sorcery!, the music here is seriously underutilized. What’s there is great across the board, but Tengami often had me solving puzzles while atmospheric sounds played instead of letting the game’s great Japanese-themed music help to create atmosphere.