I had no intention of playing Tengami with my 3 year old. I started the app and before I could tap on “New Game” she was standing next to me leaning in to see the screen. “That’s beautiful music, what are doing?” I said that I was going to play Tengami. “Tea-gaaaa-meeee?, what is Tea-gaaa-meee?”. I said “Ten-ga-mi” and explained that it was a pop-up book adventure. “Can I play Tengami?”, she said and nuzzled in next to me, one of her little hands grasping one side of the iPad. That is how our adventure began.
Tengami is more like a guided meditation with a few well-placed haiku’s rather than a traditional point-and-click adventure. We started walking along in silence, listening to the music. The world unfolded and revealed itself slowly in a continuous story. There was very little back tracking or searching and no aimless wandering or that dreaded realisation of being stuck and not knowing what to do or where to go next in a linear journey. It is an adventure for grown-ups but I discovered very quickly that a 3-year old’s inquisitive mind was at times better suited to the intuitive puzzles and hidden clues.
Tengami “is an atmospheric adventure game, full of wonder and mystery, set in Japan of ancient dark fairy tales.” It was a perfect experience from beginning to end with every element, every folding page perfectly crafted and rendered to create a deeply meaningful adventure that I will remember and play again.
Good to Know
£2.99 ($4.99). No in-app purchases or adverts.
iOS univeral app. Requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.
Apple Rating 4+: Contains no objectionable material
Adult Annoyance Factor
None. The music and special effects are soothing, low key and pleasant to listen to. If someone else is playing it in the same room, it would not be disruptive and it can be played on mute (or with headphones) without loosing any vital information.
Features and Accessibility
Design & Visual Accessibility
Tengami is set in a beautiful and flawless Japanese pop-up book that feels more like a work of art than a point-and-click adventure. It is like walking into an exquisite painting and given the opportunity to explore behind the scenes.
It is very accessible with no flash or flicker, jitter cam or simulated travel. There is no traditional user interface and interactive elements are highlighted with a subtle but radiant glow. A distinctive cursor appears where you tap to indicate the point where the Samurai you control will walk to and colour is not used as an indicator. Very little text appears on the screen, but there is no voice over for it when it does.
The music of David Wise is atmospheric and enhances the world of Tengami, but sound is not a requirement and the complete game can be played without any sound. For those with a hearing impairment or tinnitus, the volume can be adjusted and music is dimmed appropriately at points where sounds provide clues to puzzle elements. All sound cues have a visual counterpart and with no spoken dialogue there is no need for subtitles or closed captioning.
Input and Touch
Tengami is touch screen based and easy to control and play using basic touch screen gestures. A double tap on the screen walks the character to the spot that was tapped. If double tapping is difficult to do, continuous tapping works just as well. Just keep tapping a few times in the general vicinity until the icon appears at the right spot.
Paging is with an arced swipe, but it is a generous move and anything just off a straight line registers without any issues. Puzzles are completed with taps, swipes and there is one timed element that has to be completed to progress. The option to bypass some of the harder puzzles after a set number of attempts would make it more accessible.
Ease of Use
The mechanics of Tengami is easy to pick up and follow. The puzzles that appear frequently range in difficulty level and require keen observation and some basic numeracy skills. If the puzzles are too obscure or difficult to solve, an official in game hint system is being developed and an official walk through is available as well. I do hope the in game hint system will be an optional extra as one of the most enjoyable aspects for me was figuring out the more subtle puzzles.
Tengami is a detailed and deliberate contemplative solitary exploration in a peaceful, ancient world. I felt as if I was exploring the ruins of a civilization of which only echoes remained. As long as I kept with the slow pace of the game and paid close attention to the environment, there was little need to back track or hunt down clues. There are no false roads that lead to nowhere and no misdirection. I enjoyed every challenge, even the recurrence of the same mechanisms at times, except for one counting exercise that I didn’t savour much but my three year old companion was shrieking with glee at each discovery of a clue she could add to her growing list, so I can’t really complain.
One of the first five questions I was asked when my daughter and I started to play together was what Tengami means. I said that I had read an interview in which Jennifer, one of the people who made the game, said that “Ten in Japanese means heaven and Gami/Washi means paper and that combined stands for heavenly paper. It is actually not a real Japanese word; we made it up because it expresses very well the essence of our game.” She nodded sagely and later on as we neared the end she remarked “It is called Tengami because the pages fold so beautifully, isn’t it. That’s what Tengami means? Beautiful paper, that’s what it means, yes.”
Tengami was the first ‘real game’ I ever played with my daughter that she enjoyed from beginning to end and although we had to play in 10 minute sessions, she kept coming back until the end credits rolled. As she looked at the text on the screen, she was contemplative and quiet. “What did you think?”, I said. She thought some more and then replied:
“It is something different, like my dreams. I thought about it a lot and yes, it is Tengami.”