Tengami is a work of craftsmen. Its environments have been cut with premium hobby knives, their layers meticulously assembled into a papery millefeuille, all smooth lines, perfect cuts and meticulous folds. It’s like an artisanal pop-up book for adults, and when you put a finger on its pulsing touch points and slide it across so that a new scene can fold into view, you’ll do so more deliberately than the usual carefree swipe; the apparent delicacy of its constructions inspires you to be cautious, lest its flimsy foundations somehow buckle or tear. Later, you’re invited to examine scenery as it unfurls for clues, but you’ll already be accustomed at pausing mid-swipe, curious as to how these papercraft pagodas are assembled.
It’s a striking aesthetic for a beautiful world based on traditional Japanese folklore. The protagonist is a wandering samurai whose quest takes him through a range of seasonal settings, solving puzzles to earn sakura blossoms which rejuvenate the tree under which he’s found resting as the game begins. David Wise’s haunting score – using traditional Japanese instrumentation to heighten the game’s fairytale mood – suggests a certain underlying darkness, but otherwise the atmosphere is peaceful and meditative, the samurai’s glacial walking speed inviting a more relaxed style of play. Those who enjoyed Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP will likely be at home here, not least because both games share a similar reluctance to reveal their secrets, with story elements open to player interpretation and conundrums whose only hints come from careful examination of the world itself.
These puzzles are intelligently assembled in the main, commonly requiring smart manipulation of your environment to progress. The solution is rarely far from hand, with barriers keeping you within a handful of screens, whether you’re ringing bells to change the season or lining up a path to cross an autumnal waterfall. You won’t get lost for long, then, and yet the world feels larger than it really is, the knowledge that it’s constructed from so many layers and the illusion of scale offered by an unusually distant camera for exterior locations evoking a rare sense of wonder. Even on the occasions you may be struggling to move on, it’s a world that’s enjoyable to simply spend some time in, its bleak beauty occasionally redolent of Fumito Ueda’s work, or of Thatgamecompany’s Journey.
Sadly, its spell doesn’t linger quite as long. Puzzles are reused, while the final riddle incorporates a rather cheap trick, making for an inelegant and unsatisfying conclusion. The toing and froing required at times, meanwhile, can be frustrating given the protagonist’s ponderous walk.