Review – Tandem: A Tale of Shadows
Even if we didn’t exactly have an actual E3 event this year, that doesn’t mean we weren’t able to preview a few games last June. One of the games I had the chance of testing out back then was Monochrome Paris’ Tandem: A Tale of Shadows. A game that’s an innovative take on puzzle solving via platforming and perspective shifting, all set in a Tim Burton inspired “gothic fairytale” background. I did enjoy that demo for what it was, despite a few gripes, which made me look forward to the final release. Now that the game is finally available, let’s see if it was worth the wait.
As previously mentioned in my review, I actually really liked Tandem: A Tale of Shadows‘ overall gameplay loop. This is a puzzle game based on two different gameplay styles. One of them has you play the role of a little girl in a top-down perspective; playing around with push blocks, keys, and shadow-based puzzles. At any given point, you can change to the perspective of the teddy bear, who moves in a side-scrolling matter. In his mode, platformsare created via the perspective of the top-down level (walls become platforms, for instance) and shadows, which materialize into solid ground while doodling with the bear’s perspective. You need to, well, work in tandem in order to make the bear reach a crystal and throw it to the little girl, ending the level.
This is the best thing about Tandem: A Tale of Shadows. It plays unlike any other game I have ever played, and its levels are, for the most part, really well-designed. With that being said, there are some annoying sudden difficulty spikes here and there, usually when the game introduces a brand new obstacle and enemy without ever bothering to tell you anything about them. Sometimes, these new introductions are obvious and straightforward, such as gigantic spiders with visibility cones. The same cannot be said about some instances where you cannot find out there’s a mandatory hole on a wall you need to get through because of the game’s awkward camera angles. In fact, the whole visual presentation is a detriment towards the game’s overall enjoyment factor.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows features a very nice art style, which I had already been said all the way back in June. Sadly, having a nice art style doesn’t mean the game looks good. Its presentation is really, really rough. I don’t know exactly where the low budget problems end and the “Switch is an underpowered as hell system” problems begin, or if both problems just decided to start dating.
Let’s start off with the visuals. For as creative as the game’s Burton-like aesthetic might be, its graphics aren’t very impressive. It suffers from having simplistic assets, with everything looking cheap and plasticky, especially the main protagonist. She shouldn’t look like a plastic doll from a horror movie or game, that’s what I’m trying to say. To top things off, the framerate is a bit… unreliable. It never drops to obnoxious degrees, but it’s never fully stable either. It looked particularly rough in docked mode. This is the “I don’t know if this is a Tandem or Switch hardware issue” problem I mentioned before. I remember the game running well enough on my PC a while back, even if I lowered some of its settings in order to run optimally, so I’m leaning towards the latter.
The sound department is a mixed bag. On one hand, there’s the soundtrack, which is really good, something I’ve pointed out on my E3 preview. Just like the game goes for a Burton-esque art style, the soundtrack aims to sound like something Danny Elfman would have composed for the The Nightmare Before Christmas or Frankenweenie scores. On the other hand, there’s the voice acting, and it’s really bad. It sounds amateurish and sadly, some of the voice actors did not double check how some of the words were pronounced in English. The most off-putting thing I’ve noticed during my entire playthrough was hearing the main protagonist say the word “crow” with the same pronunciation as the word “cow”.
At its core, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a good puzzle game with some unique features. It’s just very rough around the edges. Its short levels and progression system make it a perfect fit for a portable like the Switch, but sadly, you’ll have to endure some rough visuals and an uneven framerate in order to enjoy it on the system. Otherwise, you could check it out on other platforms, where I can only assume some of its performance issues aren’t present.
It has an excellent sense of style, but its lighting effects and framerate are disappointing. It is also filled with graphical glitches and simply doesn’t run or look great on the Switch.
The perspective-based puzzle-solving gameplay loop is by far Tandem‘s main highlight. The game suffers from some framerate issues that directly impact its input responsiveness though, so be aware.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows features a pretty good Danny Elfman-esque soundtrack, but it is also riddled with sound effect glitches and some terrible voice acting.
Fun Factor: 7.0
It features some uneven difficulty spikes, but Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a unique puzzle-platformer that is quite enjoyable in smaller doses. Its gameplay loop is best suited for the Switch, but sadly, its performance on said console is disappointing.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Tandem: A Tale of Shadows was provided by the publisher.