Japanese pop-up book adventures (Tengami Review)

Wrapped in mysterious and immersive dreamlike surroundings, Tengami welcomes the player to a strangely vibrant point-and-click adventure presented as a traditional Japanese pop-up book. The game was released to respectively iOS-platforms and the Wii U through 2014, but has just been released for PC through Steam this month. It is evident that Tengami is the labour of love and dedication to a great and unique idea through years, but whether or not this idea is sufficient for an enjoyable game remains (mostly) in the unknown.

Tengami is.. beautiful. The graphics are undeniably Tengami's biggest strength and offers several superb and extremely atmospheric environments; all of which is greatly accompanied with the otherwise minimalistic audio.

Tengami is.. beautiful. The graphics are undeniably Tengami’s biggest strength and offers several superb and extremely atmospheric environments; all of which are greatly accompanied by the otherwise minimalistic audio.

As the player hits start, their journey begins and more or less continues without any interruptions till the game has been completed a few hours later. There are no actual dialogues or narrative – merely some rather cryptic words as well as titles for the different chapters. Fortunately, Tengami does not require any instructions or similar as the controls remain extremely simple in accordance with the point-and-click genre. The actual mouse-movements are slightly different due to the pop-up book aspect however. All areas of interest are moreover highlighted with a small luminous circle.

The above ultimately means that it’s very hard to miss something on your journey. Similar, most puzzles are fairly easy but delightfully different and intriguing.  A good example is the first actual puzzle which requires the player to make four wolves howl simultaneously. As there are no instructions or obvious approaches, the player must attempt to find the correct order by listening to the different sounds and associated results.

Ignoring the major puzzles, the best puzzles requires the player to flip different slices of scenery to create a pathway.

Ignoring the major puzzles, the best puzzles requires the player to flip different slices of scenery to create a pathway.

However, whilst simplicity is welcome, Tengami does lack some density in its puzzles – it is a puzzle game after all. It is not because the game lacks opportunities to create innovative and intriguing puzzles; in fact the concept of playing through a pop-up book allows mechanics similar to those experienced in Portal, and though the player may get glimpses of familiarity, the opportunities remain unused. This is not necessarily a bad thing however, and perhaps Tengami is meant to be a peaceful experience, rather than a gaming experience. There is a fascinating parallel to Dear Esther without the narrative and first-person perspective, but with the atmospheric environment and minimalistic interaction.

As previously mentioned, Tengami’s greatest strength remains the sublime artwork. The game is simply beautiful. The obvious inspiration from Japanese architecture, nature and landscapes is striking and ultimately creates a very appealing atmosphere. This is crucial for any point-and-click game with minimal player interaction and control, but Tengami does a stellar job.

The game remains a peaceful experience, rather than an actual gaming experience.

Tengami remains a peaceful experience, rather than an actual gaming experience.

Tengami is a very unique and innovative game inspired by Japanese nature and traditional pop-up books, and whilst the entire setting is highly appealing, the game lacks density in its puzzle. Players looking for challenging and lengthy gameplay should thus look elsewhere, but those who appreciates a peaceful and beautiful journey in an environment like this with minimum interaction will very much enjoy Tengami. 

Buy Tengami on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/299680/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Please note that this review is reviewing the PC version exclusive to Steam. 

A gorgeous platformer, patented by Tesla

Heavily inspired by the War of Currents in the late 1880’s, platformer Tesla Breaks the World by developer Archetype Global introduces the player to a gorgeous hand-drawn world with an impressive story covering the extreme rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

An interesting story with an even more interesting and impressive visual presentation. Welcomed by hand-drawn artwork – referring simply to graphics is not justified – inspired by classic cartoons, abstract and modern art and the works of Eyvind Earle, the player is instantly engrossed in the colourful world. Our protagonist and enemies are moreover animated very well and accommodate the overall design nicely – some players might even draw parallels to some of Disney’s newer character-designs.

The artwork is absolutely stunning and very well made. Animations moreover suits the environment very well.

What can possibly go wrong…

Tesla Breaks the World is a traditional 2-D-platformer with the standard controls (jump, double-jump, left and right), but a few elements greatly sets this game apart. In particular the map design which, more or less, is randomly generated. This is great for replayability and ensures that no stage is too alike whilst utilizing a very interesting and innovative approach to the otherwise stagnated 2-D platformer-genre. Furthermore, Tesla’s latest invention, the Micro-Portable Magnifying Transmitter Device (a very fancy name for an equally fancy teleportation-gun) allows players to absorb various elements and enemies and place (or throw) them at desired locations allowing for some interesting gameplay options.

In addition to the above, zombies will spawn depending on how fast (or slow) the player solves puzzles and how often they use their Transmitter Device. This encourages players to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles efficiently as not doing so causes more enemies to spawn. Similar, as the player progresses through the stages, more items are being unlocked – for instance an electric-powered hover-platform which allows Tesla to overcome larger jumps and heights. A narrator is furthermore accompanying the player through the stages; constantly having a witty tone which together with the art exudes the passion the game has been developed with.

…definitely not Thomas Edison going mad and stealing your blueprints! The artwork throughout the entire game is very charming and very well made. Animations moreover suit the environment nicely.

Unfortunately Tesla Breaks the World faces some serious issues when it comes to the actual controls. Whilst the initial design is flawless, the game unfortunately executes all commands poorly causing them to feel slow and unresponsive. Tesla almost floats when jumping, and gravity seems to be slightly too low. The main issue overall is the poor framerate – which also appears to be the main reason why the controls feel floaty.

The framerate issues are especially bad when VSync is activated – causing the game to constantly perform under 30 fps despite being capped at 100+. VSync is in general an awesome feature as it synchronizes your frames per second with your monitor’s refresh rate and – if performing correctly – delivers a much smoother experience. Disabling VSync does increase the framerate significantly, but it is still struggles to deliver a smooth gameplay. This is a huge shame, because everything else is really well-made – all from the voiceovers, artwork and story.

Several elements, including weapons and randomly generated maps together with the artwork, makes the game very appealing.

Tesla Breaks the World is the product of both a successful Kickstarter campaign, a successful GreenLit and fourteen months of hard work from the part-time indie developer, Archetype Global. It offers an engrossing story in very appealing and charming visuals utilizing hand-drawn elements and dark silhouettes, but fails at its technical performance. The game is, unfortunately, at current state facing serious issues performing to a bare acceptable level, but this is no doubt something which the developer intends to fix. This review will be updated accordingly to give a very warm recommendation, should a patch arrive.

Buy Tesla Breaks the World on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/314210/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

A simple hero with great ethics

As the silence gradually gets filled by creeping and submerged ambient sounds, and as a bright divine-like light slowly emerges in a atmospheric monochrome world surrounded by black silhouettes, you know Hero of Many by Czech-developer Trickster Arts isn’t your ordinary action-adventure game. Without further ado, and followed by a simple, wordless and very powerful opening-cutscene, the player is introduced to the charming world of Hero of Many.

The simplicity of the game experienced in the first few minutes of gameplay is stunning – yet genius and immersive. The player takes the role as a nameless and thus anonymous (this aspect is very interesting upon analyzing the game’s story!) orb-like microorganism on a quest to defeat lethal black counterparts whilst rescuing as many friends as possible.

The silhouettes - seemingly inspired by games like Limbo - are extremely simple but manages to charm and engross players.

The silhouettes – seemingly inspired by games like Limbo – is an extremely detailed world-design (despite the lack of colours and depth) which manages to charm and engross the player.

In good accordance with the wordless story, there is no way of telling which way is the correct way through any of the 26 different maze-like maps. Players may only navigate using their memory, or by the guidance of carefully placed lanterns which gets activated once passed. However, as there is no time limit, exploration immediately becomes the natural first priority. By exploring all caves and corridors the player furthermore ensures to find close-to-all friends – the more friends you collect, the stronger (and exposed) you become.

Whilst the environment may appear peaceful and to a certain degree divine with the ambient sounds and bright light, dangers will suddenly emerge and instantly turn the gameplay into a matter of surviving and guiding your friends wisely and efficiently. Approaching enemies may moreover be done in several ways – a full-scale attack or slowly by luring and taking them out one by one or in smaller groups and thus decrease own losses. However, whilst the initial attack may be launched as the player pleases, the actual battle is automatic and cannot be controlled by the player.

The background colour and enemies gradually  changes and advances as the player progresses through the maps.

The background colour and enemy-force gradually changes and advances as the player progresses through the maps.

very impressive aspect to Hero of Many is the dynamic soundtrack – especially considering the fact that it is a ported-game (something which only the initial interface hints, by the way). In terms of quality, the music is comparable to several high-budget titles and follows the gameplay in perfect order – all from soothing and melodic to intense and motivational battle-music.

However, beyond exploration and semi-automatic battles, the gameplay is somewhat limited as the puzzles presented are extremely simple and straightforward. Instead it becomes a question of keeping as many friends alive by timing the attacks accordingly and exploring everything. This is a minor set-back, but the immersive atmosphere mixed with the great soundtrack makes up for the lack of game mechanics – Hero of Many essentially becomes a story which the player writes and interprets in their own, unique way.

Exploration has several positive effects beyond increasing your army of friends - for instance special energy-berries may be eaten to increase your friends' health and strength.

Exploration has several positive effects beyond increasing your army of friends – for instance, special berries (often hidden in deserted areas) may be eaten to increase your friends’ health and strength.

Hero of Many is an atmospheric-action adventure set in a deep undersea and monochrome world with an immersive design. Packed with friends and foes, exploration and survival becomes a natural aspect of the game, and without words or back-story, the player is allowed and encouraged to create their own story and follow their own paths.

Buy Hero of Many on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/297370/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Fancy Skulls – a procedural death labyrinth

I was super excited back in January when an early-access version of Fancy Skulls from developer tequibo was made available for purchase on respectively the Humble Bundle platform and the IndieGameStand. Arguably the game was still work-in-progress back then, but the Unity-based program already had some interesting and unique elements to offer.

Recently, back in June, Fancy Skulls was released on Steam as an early-access game after being GreenLit by the community. The latter is especially important to bear in mind as this review is based solely on version 0.7.2, and several elements are thus likely still subjects to change in future updates. However, the accomplishment of being GreenLit and the constant flow of updates throughout many months clearly shows a dedicated developer and a game worth writing about.

Fancy Skulls rewards the player for taking their time to aim properly as all enemies have a weak spot.

Fancy Skulls is an interesting, roguelike first-person shooter set in a mysterious, surreal and ever dangerous labyrinth inhabited by a range of monster eggs which comes alive as the player triggers the room. The first thing which strikes the eye is the unique and very abstract graphics – especially the enemies have a very unique and intriguing design, in fact, they stand out as something which you haven’t seen in any game before.

Secondly comes the very straightforward and smooth movement (seemingly inspired by games like Unreal Tournament or Quake) and mouse-control – something which is done very likeable for a game created in Unity. Fancy Skull utilizes the standard WASD-controls, but the player will soon discover that movement and time can be altered and changed. An example hereby is a kite, which instantly changes the gameplay significantly by allowing the player to fly.

Chests and crates are scattered throughout most rooms, adding a treasure-hunter element.

Chests and crates are scattered throughout most rooms, adding a treasure-hunter element.

This brings me to the gameplay. Fancy Skulls has one, seemingly simple and straightforward goal; complete level 1-9. Without dying, of course. Though, after the first few deaths completing all nine levels and all rooms without dying suddenly appears quite a challenge. And truth be told, it is. The different enemies requires an individual analysis – does it move, if yes, how and where is its weak spot. The latter is not always as obvious as you’d like it to be – something which ultimately forces the player to position themselves to get a clear shot – an act which needs to be done flawlessly as each room locks down until all enemies are cleared.

However, the most important aspect the Fancy Skull’s gameplay is the range of items and upgrades gathered from chest and purchased from stores. The different items furthermore appear very balanced as players are forced to wait for mana regeneration before an item may be used again, and since each item and upgrade is done on the cost of another item or upgrade.

Keys, coins or ammo-packs are found in most rooms and rewarding upon clearing a room.

Keys, coins or ammo-packs are found in most rooms and/or rewarded upon clearing a room.

The stores (or, rather, vendors) – which currency is coins picked up after completing a room or gathered from drops – allows the player to upgrade their weapon(s) as they see fit. I found the standard revolver to be very powerful by sacrificing six-shots to just one (but with all six bullet’s damage in one) and purchasing a no-ammo upgrade – effectively creating a sniper rifle. Upgrading weapons does allow for some strategic gameplay as some upgrades are weak against certain type of enemies while some are powerful against other enemies.

A massive difference compared to other similar games is the limited ammunition, required aiming and otherwise strategic planning of weapon upgrades. These elements does all contribute towards making Fancy Skulls truly unique while offering a great replay-ability.

One of the many items ignites nearby enemies.

One of the many items ignites nearby enemies.

Roguelike games have always been a part of the gaming scene, but only a fair few first person shooters are vaguely fitting the sub-genre’s requirements of permanent death and procedural level generation. Not only is Fancy Skulls one of them, but the game is likely to set a new standard and be an inspiration for new games within this genre – especially considering the fact that the game is still being developed!

Fancy Skulls is truly fancy, and it deserves more recognition than it already has achieved. The game is highly recommended with an interesting gameplay, surreal and abstract graphics and hours of re-playability.

Buy Fancy Skulls on Steam here:
http://store.steampowered.com/app/307090/

Buy Fancy Skulls directly from tequibo (and get a Steam key as well):
http://www.fancyskulls.com/