Adventure Gamers Awards
When you think of the tranquil maturity of Zen gardens, children’s pop-up books with their unfolding castles and paper dragons may not be the first image that springs to mind. However, Nyamyam’s gorgeously meditative lite adventure Tengami uses the simple appeal of pop-up imagery to reveal a beautiful series of landscapes that will have you oohing and aahing with each turn of the page. You’ll breeze through a variety of simple, well-constructed puzzles following the wisps of a story, but if you’re willing to immerse yourself in the serene calmness of the subtle sounds and imagery, you’ll be in for a fun time.
At the start of Tengami, a book sitting on a table beckons to you. Behind the table are paper wall partitions covered in pale mauve and tea stain amber. The simple pinging of Japanese stringed instruments plays in the background. A softly glowing ring appears, indicating where you should swipe to open the book. As you slide the cover open, a delicate landscape pops up to greet you. There is a tall, gnarled tree dressed in frothy pink blossoms. Beneath the tree sits a man in apparent contemplation. He is dressed in traditional robes, blue with red accents. The background is lush and green. Everything – the colors, the soft music, the birds chirping, and the sound of wind blowing – seems designed to put you in the most relaxed mood ever.
A single word pulsates on the page, and a brief instruction (slide to open) tells you how to turn the page. Doing so unfolds red forests, trees made of paper cutouts that slightly sway in the wind. Red petals float lazily through the air.
When you’ve swiped your way further into the book, the world has turned grey and the petals have fallen from the tree. Snowflakes fall in the place of the petals.
The camera moves in, and you see that all but one of the few flowers that remained have now fallen. Where you go from here begins a journey of exploration with very little narrative, no dialogue at all, and only a few enigmatic haikus sprinkled throughout the experience. Only the glow indicating that a page can be turned beckons you forward.
What you need to do next is sometimes intuitive (tap on a lone flower) and at times helped along with visual cues like glowing rings. At other times, you may find yourself at a loss as to where to go or what to do. I found, however, that if I just contemplated for a bit (made all the easier by the calming music), listened to the sounds surrounding me (wolves howling or a wind chime ringing), and walked around, I eventually discovered what my next steps should be – though not always, and I did have to resort to a walkthrough for a few directions.
The iOS interface is straightforward. You’ll tap and swipe to not only turn pages, but also to interact with items such as picking up lock pieces, pulling tabs, and turning wheels. Movement is simple, if sometimes very slow. You just double tap somewhere on a page and watch as the protagonist slowly makes his way across the screen. I found these controls to be somewhat finicky on my iPad Mini, as there were times when my character just sat and contemplated rather than going where I directed. Getting him to move involved some trial and error at times because there were also places I couldn’t actually get to by walking at all, and no amount of double tapping was going to get me anywhere in those instances. In addition to walking, you’ll also have portals to use. You double tap to walk to the portal, but rather than zapping you instantly somewhere else, you sometimes have to turn the page to find yourself in a different location on the other end of the portal (such as different levels in a house or within a shipwreck).
Though the walking animation was slow at times, I didn’t mind too much because of the beauty and interactivity of the landscape. When you see a white wolf howling at a glowing paper moon, tap on him as he walks away and he bares his teeth, a low growl escaping from his mouth. Swipe up, down, left, and right to shift entire sections of the grounds around you. This allows you to realign bridges, paths, and sections of staircases, which will eventually permit you to cross gorges swollen with rushing water or to escape from the same white wolf.
The use of color in Tengami is just wonderful. As you travel, you’ll move out of deep auburn hills into soft indigo woods with golden undertones. And though this is a paper pop-up story, there is motion in this world. Water splashes soothingly past green, terraced levels. As your character approaches the splashing sound of water, the camera pulls way out to show a much larger scene, filling the screen with thundering falls. The protagonist walks with his profile facing you as you traverse the land, but when he turns to walk up stairs, you will see only a thin paper edge of this two-dimensional character.
And, wow, some of the transitions between pages are stunning, with pages folding in on themselves and opening up, transitioning between vibrant colors and revealing new scenes. It feels all the more wondrous because if you stray too far left or right in a scene, you will find yourself coming to the edge of a page, and you’ll see the table the book sits on and the screened room the table is in, reminding you that you are, after all, simply exploring a book. But what a picture book it is, as you’ll travel through a variety of environments, from a red pagoda gate amidst a blue backdrop to violet underground caverns; from capsized ships to houses filled with statuary to rocky shores. A cutaway view of a journey underground shows blue soil and tree roots giving way to a tunnel lined with glowing lights.
Of course, this is a game and not just a pop-up book, so there are puzzles you will need to solve. Many involve figuring out how to get from one part of a scene to another by swiping to alter your environment, whether that is crossing a chasm or finding secret entrances. Additionally, there are a few inventory puzzles that require you to pick up items, but you never carry more than one item so the puzzle simply involves looking through an area to find what you need to, say, unlock a door. There are also a few other types of puzzles thrown in, such as moving wheels around to align a picture or finding clues in the environment to decode a safe’s lock. Though none of these puzzles are very challenging, they fit delightfully well into the setting and at times even require you to pay special attention as scenes unfold while you turn pages. As you travel further into the game, the environmental puzzles become more challenging, as pulling tabs or swiping doors on one page might change what you see on another page.
Throughout your lite adventuring, your “objective” as outlined in the opening scenes is simple: to “read” through the book. The story, however, is more difficult to discern, and for me the game became more about exploring the different environments the developers dreamed up. You know when a “chapter” has ended when you are greeted by simple haikus about nature and dreams. At the end of each of these chapters, you find your character back at the tree, watching it change as you experience more of the world.
It took me nearly two hours to journey through this serene landscape. I’m not really sure if I was any more enlightened when I finished than when I first “opened” Tengami. But just as you might feel after meditating in a Zen garden, the journey was soothing and pleasant. If you’re in the mood for light puzzling set against gorgeous scenery in an unusual pop-up format, this is one picture book you’ll want to make sure to flip through at your leisure.
Pop-up pages turn
Revealing beauty and fun
Go on, check it out
This pop-up book isn’t just for children; if you’re looking for a peaceful interlude to while an afternoon away, check Tengami out.