One of my favorite video game genres is the puzzle game as it is hard to beat a good challenging puzzle game. While the puzzle design is the element that I find to be the most important for a good puzzle game, an innovative mechanic/theme is another big element in deciding what puzzle games I ultimately decide to play. While there have been other puzzle games that have utilized the light and shadows mechanic, I was intrigued when I first saw Tandem: A Tale of Shadows as this mechanic seemed to play a big role in the gameplay. Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a fun puzzle game with great puzzle design that has a few issues preventing it from being as good as it could have been.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows follows a young girl named Emma. When a young boy named Thomas Kane goes missing, Emma decides to investigate the disappearance. She meets a sentient/magical teddy bear named Fenton and the two proceed to investigate the Kane home. This home is not as it seems though as it is filled with fantastical/magical elements that stand in their way of discovering the truth. Can the pair find a way through the mansion and figure out what happened to Thomas Kane?
In Tandem: A Tale of Shadows you play as two characters at the same time. As Emma you will play in three dimensions from a top down perspective. Emma will explore the environment and interact with various objects and buttons/switches in order to open up a path through the mansion. While doing this she needs to avoid enemies/threats. Much of her gameplay revolves around helping Fenton complete their objective.
The other character that you play as is Fenton, a sentient teddy bear. Fenton is trapped on a 2D plane overlooking the area that Emma moves though. On the 2D plane Fenton can stand on shadows created by Emma in the 3D plane. Fenton can’t move through any shadows/darkness, but you can use this to create platforms and ramps for Fenton to walk or jump on. Fenton’s gameplay in a way plays like a 2D platformer as you jump between the shadows to reach the gem at the end of each level to complete it.
When I first saw Tandem: A Tale of Shadows the thing that intrigued me most was the idea of controlling two characters at the same time and using shadows to solve puzzles. I have played a few other puzzle games that have utilized light and shadows as a key gameplay mechanic, but I still think this mechanic is where Tandem: A Tale of Shadows shines the most. This is not just a gimmick for the game as the whole game is built around it. You play as two different characters which you can switch between with the press of a button. Basically you use one character in order to open up a path for the other and vice versa.
The ultimate goal of each level is to get Fenton to the crystal. This means most of the levels are centered around using shadows to create a path for Fenton. The game tweaks and twists this formula throughout the game giving you new ways to play with lights and shadows to create a way forward. In fact each new room of the mansion that you enter has it own unique mechanic(s) which gives you new things to play with. Sometimes you act as the light source where you have to position yourself correctly in the environment to create the proper shadow. Other times you need to move objects around in front of light sources in order to create the necessary shadows.
As the gameplay is mostly built around using light to cast shadows, you might think it would get a little repetitive after a while. That is never really the case in Tandem: A Tale of Shadows which I attribute mostly to the game’s level design. The level design can be quite clever. The designers deserve a lot of credit for coming up with clever ways of using the game’s mechanics in new and interesting ways. Each room has its own mechanics and the game does a really good job building on mechanics learned earlier in the game. You need to think outside the box in order to solve the puzzles. There is usually only one solution to each of the puzzles, but the game still does a great job making you feel good about yourself after solving each puzzle. The game does a really good job building up your knowledge of the mechanics so later on they can twist and tweak a previous puzzle to bring new life to the mechanic. A good puzzle game is driven by its puzzle design, and Tandem: A Tale of Shadows knocks this element out of the park.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows deserves a lot of credit for its level design. Maybe it is just because I play a lot of puzzle games, but I didn’t find the game to be particularly challenging though. I was able to figure out most of the puzzles really quickly as while they are clever, they are pretty straightforward. I would say that there might have been a handful of puzzles that were somewhat challenging that made me really think about what I had to do. Most of my problems came from not noticing something in the environment. As for the platforming and timing challenges in the game, I did die a number of times in the game by being slightly off in my timing. The game is quite lenient when you die though as you are basically sent back to the closest safe place possible. Thus you lose very little progress when you die. Generally I would say that the game is on the easy to moderately difficult side. This doesn’t mean that Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a bad game as I still really enjoyed it. The easier puzzles make the game more accessible where players won’t become frustrated after it takes quite a while to figure out how to solve a puzzle. If you play a lot of puzzle games though, I don’t know if you are going to be particularly challenged by any of the puzzles.
For the most part I would say that the game’s controls are fine. The controls aren’t perfect, but they usually don’t impact your enjoyment of the game. The game only utilizes a few buttons. As Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a puzzle game, it doesn’t usually need precise controls as you can take your time. There are a few small sections of the game that do rely on a little timing. The controls may lead to a couple deaths, but it never gets too bad. Probably the biggest complaint that I have with the controls is with the platforming. The platforming is not bad as it is usually your fault when you fail a jump and have to retry a section. The jump sometimes feels a little stiff though where you can tell that the game is more of a puzzle game than a platformer. The controls are usually good enough for the platforming that you have to do in the game, but there are a couple of times in the game where the controls got in the way. When you fail a jump you will only be sent back a little so you never lose too much due to failing a jump. While you aren’t going to get a precise platformer, I thought the platforming was good enough for the type of game that Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is.
With the gameplay out of the way, lets move onto the game’s story and atmosphere. I had some mixed feelings towards this aspect of the game. Lets begin with the game’s story. I give the game some credit for actually trying to tell a story. Most puzzle games don’t even bother as most people only play puzzle games for the actual puzzles. The game has some interesting ideas, but it just feels like something is missing. At times the story feels a little disjointed where you just move from room to room with each having their own very distinct feel. The story also ends kind of abruptly where it feels like there is DLC or a sequel planned as the conclusion is not particularly satisfying. You could tell that the developers tried to put effort into the story, but it just doesn’t play a big role in the game. Part of this is due to a decent amount of the story being told through the secret rooms. If you don’t find these rooms you might be left kind of confused about what is going on.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows’ atmosphere is kind of similar. I give the game credit for creating an interesting world to explore. Each set of levels take you to a different part of the house and each look quite unique. In many ways the game’s overall style reminds me a lot of a Tim Burton movie. The game deserves credit for its creativity. At times the visuals are pretty impressive for an indie game. At other times though something just feels a little off. Outside of the occasional graphical bugs where Emma has no face in the end of level cutscene, the visuals never really detract from the game. The quality of the visuals just don’t feel consistent throughout the game though.
Speaking of the graphical bugs, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows does have a few bugs that I wanted to quickly mention. None of these are particularly gamebreaking, but some of them can be kind of annoying. There will occasionally be graphical bugs like the missing faces that I mentioned. Most of the other bugs involve Emma getting trapped in parts of the level. This is a rare occurrence, but I did have to restart a couple of levels because something bugged out where I was no longer able to complete the level.
As with all puzzles games it is hard to give a definitive estimate of Tandem: A Tale of Shadows’ length. That is because a decent amount of the length will depend on how quickly you solve the puzzles. Those who solve the puzzles quickly will obviously beat the game quicker than those who have more troubles. The game has approximately 40 levels spread out between five rooms/worlds. If you can solve the puzzles quickly I would say that most of the levels will only take a couple of minutes to complete. I ended up beating the game in around 4-5 hours. I didn’t find all of the secret rooms though so that would add some time to the game. If you have more issues with the puzzles I could see the game taking maybe an hour or two longer. Overall I would say that the game’s length is pretty average.
As a fan of puzzle games, I had fun playing Tandem: A Tale of Shadows. While there have been other games that have utilized the light and shadows mechanic, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows does a good job utilizing it to create a fun and interesting puzzle game. The light and shadow mechanics work really well. A lot of this is due to the game’s puzzle design which is great. The game does a great job slowly introducing new mechanics and mixing and matching them with previous mechanics to create clever and satisfying puzzles. I found the puzzles to be on the easier side, but they are still really enjoyable. I genuinely enjoyed the game, but it does have a few issues. First the game has a few bugs and the platforming controls can feel a little stiff at times. The game’s atmosphere and story can be a little hit and miss as well.
My recommendation for Tandem: A Tale of Shadows really comes down to your feelings towards the game’s premise and puzzle games in general. If you aren’t a big fan of puzzle games or don’t care for the light and shadows premise, I don’t think Tandem: A Tale of Shadows will be for you. Puzzle game fans that like the idea of playing with lights and shadows though will likely enjoy Tandem: A Tale of Shadows and should consider picking it up.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Monochrome Paris and Hatinh Interactive for the review copy of Tandem: A Tale of Shadows used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.