Tandem is a Platformer with Puzzling Perspectives

If you’re looking for a puzzle game with an interesting twist, this week’s game will be right up your alley. Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a puzzle game that allows you to play as two different characters more-or-less simultaneously, but each character has an entirely different perspective, meaning that you as the player get to explore your environment with both of them.

The game embraces a really interesting series of mechanics as you maneuver your odd couple through the mysterious mansion, solving puzzles in order to solve the almost ancillary mystery, and the puzzles pose just enough challenge to keep you interested without being so difficult that the game becomes frustrating. Though not without its flaws, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows demonstrates a remarkable command of environment significant enough to make the game stand out.

Plot Ahoy!

You play Emma, a ten year old girl from Victorian London, who becomes fascinated by the disappearance of Thomas Kane, son of a master illusionist. His disappearance stymies Scotland Yard, so Emma takes it upon herself to sneak into the Kane Mansion, a massive steampunk labyrinth, by herself in order to investigate. Early on in her clandestine efforts, she sees a teddy bear fall from a carriage and take off running toward the mansion. The bear in question is Fenton, a magical teddy bear with a mysterious ability to walk on walls and move through the shadows.

Tandem takes its title quite seriously as you control both Emma and Fenton as you explore the Kane Mansion. Emma, played from a top-down perspective, can only walk on the floor but can manipulate lanterns and solid objects in each room/world in order to create pathways and shadow bridges for Fenton. His perspective is that of a standard side-scroller, with the caveat that he can only walk on shadows or on walls. In order to collect the crystals you need to pass into the next room, you’ll need to manipulate both characters. Emma creates the pathways for Fenton to reach the platforms and switches necessary for solving the puzzles and clearing the room.

Review Notes

While Tandem is a fairly short game, there’s plenty to occupy your time. The game divides the Kane Mansion into five major segments that are divided into smaller levels that feature an ever-increasing level of difficulty for both the puzzles and the enemies you encounter. The segments are themselves distinct from each other in terms of theme and construction and simulate rooms in the mansion, ranging from the kitchen to the library. The monsters Monochrome has invented to populate these rooms are both appropriate and cleverly entertaining, given the overall “creepy” tone of the game.

Tandem is a puzzle game, so while your characters can die, death means comparatively little. All it does is reset your current environment. The game also has a checkpoint system, allowing you to duck out when real life beckons without losing your progress, which is a nice feature. As implied above, you will need to switch between the characters in order to complete the puzzles, and given the game’s increasing levels of difficulty, you’ll find yourself not worrying about it too much at the beginning. Later levels, however, will require more switching on the fly and some decent reflexes, so if you’re not entirely interested in puzzles that involve timing jumps to avoid, say, crushing gears, then you should be aware that Tandem does employ those. You’ll also spend a fair amount of time precisely positioning your characters in order to avoid different kinds of enemies or damage, and when things start to become more difficult, finding that exact position can become frustrating. However, that’s generally par for the course in puzzle games.

Visually, the gameplay is quite lovely, and the cutscenes certainly feature a certain retro aesthetic. The music and sounds contribute to the overall mood quite well. Fenton’s sequences differ markedly from Emma’s given that Fenton’s gameplay is exclusively in black and white whereas Emma’s top down views feature deep, rich color schemes. That said, shifting between the two can become jarring precisely because you shift from bright colors to Fenton’s monochromatic view.

My only real complaint about the game is that the story becomes largely ancillary, and you will not ever really get the kind of resolution that you might expect out of the game. I found the resolution lacking and even dispiriting; I really wanted more out of the story than the game ultimately provided. My other quibble is a relatively minor one in that the game makes an odd choice for Emma’s voice acting. They give her a peculiar French accent that seems out of place in London. Fortunately, she speaks rarely, so the issue remains mostly forgettable.

TLDR

Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a beautifully put together game if you care for puzzles and steampunk. The character switch mechanic makes the game feel unique, even though the levels can become a touch repetitive. The game runs about six hours, depending on how quickly you solve the puzzles, and it is something you can put down when necessary. Neither Emma nor Fenton ever gains a new ability, so you won’t have to worry about forgetting the controls. The story doesn’t particularly matter to the game once you enter the Mansion, so you don’t need to keep key plot points in mind.

That said, the game is available on the Switch, and while the mature rating may seem a touch overkill for the game, I would caution parents to be aware not only of the game’s horror elements but also of the nature of the ending. That alone may render the game unsuitable for certain age-groups or individual children, so parents should look into that before picking up the game for kids. Still, if you’ve ever wondered what a video-game version of Betrayal at House on the Hill would be like if it existed in a wholly steampunk universe, you should check out Tandem. Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is currently available on the Steam store for $21.23 with the OST.

Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard

  1. Monochrome is a French developer, and you’ll be able to spot the Jules Verne room in a heartbeat. I appreciated the nod.
  2. There appear to be no plans to expand Tandem, meaning that the ending stands, which is just depressing.
  3. I did find myself having to repeat some of the more reflex-based challenges more than I care to admit. I think I’m getting old.
  4. I really liked the shadow mechanic as sometimes the platforms could create their own shadows for Fenton. The gameplay is really interesting, which I liked.
  5. Did I mention that I disliked the ending? Because I really, really do. I get what Monochrome wanted to do with it, but I still don’t like it.

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