Tandem: A Tale of Shadows (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Nikola Suprak 05.01.2022

Review for Tandem: A Tale of Shadows on Nintendo Switch

There aren't too many games where teddy bears get a starring role. There was the oft forgotten Naughty Bear a couple of console generations ago, and there probably was a Call of Duty: The Teddy Bear Wars Because We've Run Out Of Real Wars To Cover at some point, but for the most part teddy bears don't feature too prominently in any games. That is one of the reasons Tandem: A Tale of Shadows stands out, but it is not the only one. From the striking visual style to the contrast between the darker imagery and the protagonists being a teddy bear and a little girl, this is a game that wants to make an impression. So Cubed3 grabbed its teddy bear and decided to see if there was some substance to match all this style.

It is interesting to note that the first impression of Tandem: A Tale of Shadows was not necessarily a good one. Things start off a little rough, and this isn't necessarily an attractive looking game. It is visually interesting with its top-down view and harsher, stringent style, but in terms of graphical prowess this is not going to win any awards. This is not produced by a big studio, and it shows almost immediately. There are hints of the American McGee's Alice series here, but only if that studio suffered some pretty significant layoffs and the visual design team was drinking pretty heavily while they were working. The top-down approach is interesting, but it also makes it difficult to see what exactly is going on at times, and this is just kind of an ugly game. Part of this is a result of the design, but part of this is just that the game kind of looks bad and almost has the style of a game released a couple console generations ago.
The story does not do much to dissuade from the idea that this is a low budget indie title, and the opening cutscene is not going to inspire much confidence. Some famous little boy has gone missing, and a little girl takes it upon herself to go and rescue him. During her pursuit, a teddy bear falls out the window of a carriage and…comes to life and starts chasing after it, for some unknown reason. The game is not all that good about establishing what is going on, and the opening cutscene dialogue is pretty cringeworthy both in terms of writing and voice acting performance. It feels stilted and awkward, like the dialogue was translated into Russian and then into German and then back into English for some reason, and the opening scene feels like something straight off of a straight-to-video knock-off animated film. Luckily, the plot then disappears for most of the rest of the game, only surfacing for a very occasional cutscene or a reward for finding one of the game's handful of hidden rooms. It is for the best, because the ending is best described as disappointing, and it would have been worse if the plot had been good enough to actually care about it. It is just sort of a mess, and between the writing and the voice work and the visuals, initial impressions of this game are likely to be very, very poor.

Screenshot for Tandem: A Tale of Shadows on Nintendo Switch

Fortunately, something the game gets right is the gameplay, which shows up to shove all that boring stuff out of the way and take center screen rather quickly. Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a puzzle-platformer with a pretty heavy emphasis on the puzzle and some very minor platforming elements thrown in every once in a while, just to keep things interesting. The twist, and the aspect that makes this game pretty unique in this genre, is that control is evenly divided between two different characters that work together to solve whatever challenge the level presents. While the characters share the same basic area, they actually occupy two entirely different spaces without any possibility for any sort of overlap. Emma walks around on the floor like a normal person, avoiding enemies and shining light to manipulate shadows through the level. Fenton, her weird demonic teddy bear companion, is not particularly interested on walking the floors. He walks on the side of the walls, and he is capable of jumping onto the shadows Emma casts throughout the levels. So Emma can shine the light in a specific way, creating a path Fenton can use to jump over to a platform, which he can then use to access a switch which open up the path further for Emma. This is a very basic example but gives a general idea of what the gameplay is like, which involves a lot of character swapping and a lot of figuring out how exactly to use these limited mechanics to get through some fairly challenging levels.
The level designs here are supremely clever, and it is really impressive all the different ways the game comes up with to challenge the player. The game tries to keep things interesting by introducing new challenges regularly and it does a good job not repeating the same range of ideas over and over again. Shadow manipulation is typically the key, but there are a lot of alternate ways the game comes up to turn that idea on its head. Early levels might give Emma a lantern she can walk around with. Hiding behind a barrier will cause the shadows to fall a certain direction which might give Fenton a new path. Trying to figure out the perfect placement for Emma amongst multiple barriers creates these really well-designed puzzles, but the game is not content to rest on this idea for too long. Soon that lantern will be dropped and shadows will need to be created in other ways. Perhaps Emma will need to move a barrier to block an existing light source or maybe she will need to manipulate an enemy to a certain location instead. There are a lot of different ideas here, and all of them are at this really satisfying difficulty level that creates the smug sense of self-satisfaction for figuring out something that is not immediately obvious.

Screenshot for Tandem: A Tale of Shadows on Nintendo Switch

While Emma needs to avoid enemies and plot out an ideal path on the ground level, the platforming is left to Fenton. This also starts fairly simply and he will just need to jump between static platforms that Emma has created. His movement feels a bit sticky, and his jumping skills are not going to impress either of the Mario brothers. Still, everything becomes more and more complicated the further these unlikely heroes get in the game. Gone are the simple platforms and static jumps, and all of a sudden Fenton is going to need to coordinate between rotating gears and dangerous moving platforms, sometimes while avoiding oncoming enemies or racing against a timer that is slowly counting down to his death. The very best levels inevitably tie Fenton and together is some wonderfully complex combinations, and some of these later challenges really are a marvel. Tandem is a great title for the game, because that is really what this game is all about. It is a single player experience but linked to the tandem movement of two separate characters and figuring out a way to get them to work in conjunction with each other. The difficulty is fantastic and the level design is wonderfully crafted, and this is one of the more fun puzzle-platformers in recent memory because of it.

Screenshot for Tandem: A Tale of Shadows on Nintendo Switch

The gameplay is pretty great and is more than clever enough to warrant a recommendation, but there was room for improvement here. Either through getting used to the rhythm of the game or the fact character abilities never change through the course of the adventure, it felt like the later levels were actually easier than the earlier stages. There is a certain learning curve at the start of the game while most of the core mechanics are being introduced, and that is when the style of puzzle here is still fresh and at its very best. As previously mentioned, new twists are introduced to complicate the challenges, but it does not take away from the fact that the core gameplay here never really changes all that much. With the exception of the end of area boss fights, levels do not really translate into anything substantially different at any point, and almost every stage here breaks down into manipulating shadows to create a path. That is not to say it is not a clever mechanic and that the game does get the most out of it, but after playing through it for a while it is easy to pick up on the common beats and begin to see patterns in what needs to be done. Things become more complex, sure, but there is almost a predictability in that complexity and a little more needed to be done to help build upon early ideas to truly make the gameplay here standout.

Screenshot for Tandem: A Tale of Shadows on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

While Tandem: A Tale of Shadows does feel like it runs out of a bit of steam by the end, overall this is still a fairly entertaining little puzzle adventure. There are plenty of places for improvement, and both the story and the gameplay really could have used a bit more refinement if this was to become something truly special. But even if it is a little rough around the edges, the biggest impression the game is going to leave behind is just how clever its puzzles are. It is the core gameplay that saves the game, even if the stuff around it might not be all that impressive. Even when the game starts to drag and become a bit more predictable, the puzzle platforming is fun enough to warrant seeing everything through until the end.

Developer

Monochrome Paris

Publisher

Hatinh Interactive

Genre

Puzzle

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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