Review: Switch Perspectives in Dark Puzzler Tandem: A Tale of Shadows
I’ve been playing the slightly Tim Burton-esque Tandem: A Tale of Shadows off and on for a little while now—I even put up a couple of previews about it (here and here). Now it’s finally released, just in time for the spooky Halloween season. If you’re not a fan of scary games but want to get into the spirit, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is oozing with dark, creepy atmosphere.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a puzzle platformer with an emphasis on puzzle solving. In it, you play as 10 year old Emma and her teddy bear Fenton, as they try to explore the Kane mansion in search of the magician Thomas Kane. While the story provides motivation, and the atmosphere is generally spooky—the main focus of Tandem: A Tale of Shadows isn’t its tale, but it’s shadows. It employs a clever puzzle mechanic where you play in two different perspectives—with these perspectives affecting the other. As Emma, you play from a top-down perspective, with the ability to push and pull objects and more importantly—cast shadows. Fenton, played from a sidelong perspective, uses these shadows as platforms and ramps.
This switching of two perspectives makes the puzzles in Tandem: A Tale of Shadows rather interesting. Emma and Fenton have to work in tandem to overcome obstacles. The vast majority of puzzles involve manipulating shadows into walkways for Fenton. Emma can manipulate light sources, objects that block light, and even holds a lantern that can cast light, making shadows. Fenton can then use these shadows as walkways. It leads to some clever and sometimes deviously difficult puzzle design. Often you’ll have to step on a button as Fenton to let Emma pas through a gate, to cast more shadows or light for Fenton, whichever is appropriate.
Emma is helpless against any traps or enemies she encounters—but she can run. There isn’t combat in Tandem — instead, you’ll deal with foes like you would any other obstacle — avoid, circumvent, disable, trap, etc. Emma spends most of her time pushing and pulling objects, or avoiding enemies when she isn’t casting light for Fenton. Fenton has the easier job, usually tasked with completing short platforming sections where he walks from shadow platform to solid ground. You can’t switch from Fenton to Emma if Fenton is still on shadow (he has to be standing on non-shadow ground when switching), or switch to Fenton if he’s stuck in shadows. The shadow casting mechanic is explored in depth, as you have to block light, create light, lengthen shadows, shorten them and more to be able to get Fenton to where you want him—which is the goal at the end of the level, represented by a dark crystal.
The puzzles in Tandem: A Tale of Shadows will almost always use shadows in some way—but there is enough variation to keep things interesting throughout. Each new section of the Kane mansion introduces a new mechanic or two—usually something that Emma must manipulate for Fenton to progress. Fenton’s gameplay is more platformer based, and besides the types of obstacles he has to jump over or avoid, his gameplay doesn’t change too much.
While Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is certainly atmospheric, it lacks a little bit in heart and character. It’s an easy sell to have a girl with her teddy bear finding their way across a forebodingly dark enchanted estate, but Tandem manages to make this concept a little bland. While the characters of Emma and Fenton provide a vehicle, and the Kane mansion a setting, the developer doesn’t capitalize on these in any meaningful way—either narratively or mechanically. I still love the concept of a little girl and her teddy bear working together—I’m reminded of a picture I saw of a teddy bear, cardboard sword in hand, defending a little girl against her nightmares. That’s the sort of vibe that Tandem: A Tale of Shadows needed.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a competent puzzle game. It employs some clever puzzle mechanics, with enough variation to keep things interesting. I would have liked Fenton’s platforming to be as interesting as Emma’s puzzle solving, but the balance is done well enough to be interesting, and fun. While everyone has different proficiencies when it comes to puzzle solving, some of the puzzles in Tandem: A Tale of Shadows had me scratching my head, though I was never stumped for too long. Unfortunately, I never really got too many ”ah ha!” moments in Tandem, instead, when I finally beat a frustrating puzzle it was because I missed a small hole in the wall or other crucial environmental detail. I did enjoy my time with Tandem: A Tale of Shadows, however, and recommend for those who are interested in the concept, paired with the art style.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is available today on Steam, and will be coming to Nintendo Switch, Xbox and PS4 at a later date.
A Steam key was provided to us for this review.