It was some time ago, but one of the first indie games I can recall making a big mainstream splash was Braid. That was a puzzle platformer that landed on Xbox Live Arcade back in the far-flung days of 2008, and it ignited what we’d now call a revolution in indie gaming. These days, indies and AAA releases aren’t really all that different, but back then Braid was an entirely unexpected hit.
As a result of Braid’s success, puzzle platformers became a key genre for games from smaller studios, and we can probably trace the lineage of Tandem: A Tale of Shadows right back to that old classic.
When Emma finds out that the scion of a local family of magicians has disappeared, she decides she needs to do some detective work. It’s a great idea in theory…but in practice, the Kane Mansion where the boy once lived is a complex and mysterious labyrinth of a place. It’s fortunate that, like any good detective, Emma’s got a partner. Fenton, the living teddy bear, is here to lend Emma a helping paw as they plumb the mansion’s depths. Remember: if Scotland Yard can’t get the job done, you can rely on a little girl and her teddy bear.
Ever play a puzzle platformer before? As we mentioned before, if you’ve played video games in the past however many years, you probably have, and that’s what you’re getting with Tandem. You control both characters; Fenton handles most of your platforming while Emma’s responsible for futzing around with the world to create paths that Fenton can use to get ahead. We’ve seen ideas like this before in games like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
The trick in Tandem is that Emma views the world from a top-down perspective, while Fenton sees things from a horizontal view. By properly arranging things, Emma can create shadowy paths that Fenton can use to reach previously inaccessible locations. The two characters will have to work together to clear each area, which results in some positively devious puzzle concepts. Both Emma and Fenton will have to sneak past baddies, find switches and use devices throughout the world to get where they need to go.
Tandem leans pretty hard into its surrealistic Tim Burton-style presentation. It’s the sort of cutesy, gothy sort of thing that you’d expect to find in a Hot Topic back when those were big. That’s not a complaint, of course; there’s something to be said for a game that knows how it wants to look and goes the distance to make that happen. Even the sound design does a great job of reinforcing the creepy-cute style. You came for the spooky shadow platforming, you’ll stay for the music box soundtrack.
If you’ve played games of this nature before you won’t be surprised to hear that Tandem: A Tale of Shadows won’t last you very long. There’s probably around six hours’ worth of quality puzzle-solving adventure before you wring the last bit of stuffing out of this bear. That said, the beautiful presentation and the sheer amount of heart packed into each area means Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is probably worth checking out.