Hands-on Preview – Tandem: A Tale of Shadows
Sometimes, the games you have no idea about end up becoming some of your most anticipated titles of the year. Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is such an example. I knew literally nothing of it before being offered a key for preview purposes. I knew nothing about the developer, Monochrome Paris, nor its publisher, Hatinh Interactive. The trailer was a bit vague, showing a bit of its gameplay, a lot of its story, but I had to tackle it on my own to see if I would like it or not. Behind its “Alice in Wonderland meets Tim Burton” facade, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows ended up showcasing that it’s basically a Nintendo puzzle-platformer at heart, which is never a bad thing.
In Tandem, you play as two characters at once. Emma is a human girl, whose gameplay revolves around exploring a level via a top-down perspective. She can open doors with keys and explore her surroundings with a lamp. You can also control a sentient teddy bear called Fenton, whose gameplay is based around 2D platforming. Together, they embark on a quest to rescue a missing kid called Thomas. I have to say, the storytelling didn’t captivate me very much. The fact these cutscenes stuttered like crazy on my PC didn’t help either. What really made me enjoy the game, however, was its innovative design, both in terms of controls and levels.
You see, you control Emma and Fenton on the same level, basically at the same time. The 2D platforms Fenton jumps on are either created via a neat perspective trick, or by using Emma’s lamp. She can position herself in order to create shadows throughout a level, resulting in platforms that can be walked on by Fenton on his magical perspective. This is Tandem‘s main gameplay loop: keep hopping between 2D and top-down perspectives, using each character’s abilities in order to open each other’s doors, create platforms, and reach the end of the level, which is shaped like a collectible crystal. Why a crystal? I have no idea why, but hey, it works.
What I loved about the game’s level design and progression is that it felt like I was playing a Nintendo puzzle platformer, like the Yoshi series of games. The difficulty level is not exactly very challenging, at least in the levels included in this demo, but each stage included a new gimmick or made its puzzles just a little bit harder to create a natural and welcoming progression system. By no means did Tandem feel like a challenging ordeal to me, but that didn’t matter at all. I doubt that was the developers’ intention. Furthermore, the game looks pretty gorgeous, with great usage of lighting, and a Danny Elfman-esque soundtrack.
Don’t miss out on this one. Tandem might not have an interesting story, but I wasn’t expecting to like its core gameplay loop as much as I did. It’s a brand new take on gravity, exploration, and your own sense of perspective, resulting in a neat control scheme and some excellent level design. The fact it features a Tim Burton-esque, “family friendly goth” aesthetic is just the icing on top of the cake.