Developed by Monochrome Paris and published by Hatinh Interactive, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a visually creative and atmospheric puzzle platformer. We reviewed the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which is also available for the Switch, Xbox and PC.
We previewed Tandem a while ago so we had a pretty good idea of what to expect from it in terms of gameplay and style, but still enjoyed playing the full version of this dark fairytale-like adventure – now fleshed out to include a full story campaign with cutscenes. Those cutscenes were still missing or a WIP in the preview build we played, so seeing a Tim Burton-esque story unfold was certainly an enriching experience, though almost to the point where protagonist Emma feels a bit too much like Lewis Carroll’s Alice.
Emma is joined by her teddy beat Fenton in trying to uncover what happened to magician Thomas Kane, who has vanished. They’ll have to work together (or in tandem, if you will) to do this, with Emma’s gameplay playing out from a top-down perspective while Fenton is somehow stuck to the bottom wall and uses platforms and shadows to help Emma overcome obstacles – who can in turn help Fenton reach much-needed crystals by casting the shadows that he can walk on in 2D platforming-like fashion. It’s hard to explain in words, but it’s a fun and original concept that gets explored with a number of different mechanics over a handful of different areas and over three dozen levels.
As mentioned, light and shadow are important gameplay mechanics, and although this isn’t a new concept (Contrast comes to mind) it works well with the co-op nature of Tandem’s gameplay. Both protagonists have a clear role to play in the objectives of each puzzle, and as Emma moves a light source around you can reach new places with Fenton by walking on the newly created shadows – thus allowing you to open up (for example) a door for Emma.
Progressing through the story introduces new mechanics as well, and also add nuances to the visual style of the game. These include new enemies, which in turn promote stealthy gameplay. Exploring also pays off, as secrets can often be found, and if you miss any then that’s a good reason to replay earlier levels.
Story-wise Tandem: A Tale of Shadows runs out of steam a bit during the second half of the game, because the intriguing premise of Kane’s disappearance isn’t as strong of a driving force as the intro sequence would suggest. And just like how the story could have used more polish, we “solved” some of the puzzle through small glitches (or unintentional solutions) as well. “Oh, I guess that works” isn’t the kind of reaction I’m looking for in a puzzle game, but luckily those moments were exceptions and most puzzles feature clever designs.
We’ve certainly seen more polished puzzle games over the years, but the clever mix of gameplay styles and cooperative nature of the puzzles makes Tandem: A Tale of Shadows a worthwhile narrative-driven take on the genre. The visual style in particular is striking, though a few visual glitches will hopefully get ironed out post-launch.