Early in my college days, I attended a compulsory lecture by the sort of friendly dingbat a certain kind of professor is convinced that students will connect to. I remember little from the lecture—being, as I was, a freshman uninterested in the wisdom of dingbats—but these years later, a question he asked is still rattling around in my head: What’s hiding here?
Tengami is a game about that question. Or else, it is a game cast in a form that manifests that question: the pop-up book. We think of pop-up books as things for children, but as a form, it offers a simple, beautiful reality that is both paradox and promise. When we take up a pop-up book, we know—even as kids—that herein, something is concealed, and that soon, it will be revealed. We know, too, that as we open a flap, or pull a tab, we will reveal something, but that something else will therefore be hidden. Each interaction changes the landscape of the book, and so each offers an opportunity for discovery.
The discovery of hidden things is therefore intrinsic to form of the game—but it is also intrinsic to Pop-Up Peekaboo Farm. In Tengami, though, the mechanism of discovery, revelation, and surprise runs far deeper than merely the form.
First among Tengami‘s secret things is the story itself. At first, we’re simply left to wander in the game’s world, with no clear sense of why we’re there or what we’re trying to accomplish. This is no major inconvenience, though; the game’s art is gorgeous. Patterned after the elegant lines and contrasts of Japanese ukiyo-e art, the game’s stylised design is rich and engaging, and it is not at all a bad world to be wandering around in for no reason. Simply by exploring, though, we soon discover what it is we are trying to do.
The puzzles, too, are built around discovery—but not in the ways we might expect. Certainly, all puzzles are to some extent experimental in nature. Many games, for example, require you to figure out the right order to hit the switches in order to clear a path, and Tengami has its share of straightforward puzzles in that vein. With the best puzzles in Tengami, before we can figure out how to solve it, we first have to figure out what it is. Without explanation or preamble, the game presents us with four columns of Japanese glyphs, which can be selected. With a tree, surrounded by wolves, and some windchimes. With a snowbound house whose window looks out onto spring. With an array of eighteen statues of dogs. And before we can solve those puzzles, we must first discover their essence, and find guidance hidden—yet again—in the world around us.
Tengami demands that we see everything, notice everything, look everywhere. At times, this means tedious backtracking, squint-eyed poring over landscapes, and muttered debates about what is or isn’t important. Each time, though, at the end of those frustrations there is new discovery, new understanding, and new delight. In Tengami, there is always something hiding here, and often “here” is somewhere we would never expect to look.