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Tandem: A Tale Of Shadows

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Hatinh Interactive
Developer: Monochrome
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2021


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PC Review - 'Tandem: A Tale of Shadows'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 15, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Tandem: A Tale Of Shadows is a dreamlike puzzle platformer with action and adventure elements that offers a unique dual gameplay experience.

A few puzzle-platformers have tasked PC players to come up with unconventional solutions. The Pedestrian asked players to line up signs that were parts of the level to make it from one end to another. In My Shadow had players manipulating objects in a room, with special attention paid to shadows. The results varied, but there was some appreciation for trying something new that teased the brain rather than pixel-perfect reflexes. As a new entry in the genre, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows doesn't do anything new, but the execution is good enough that you won't mind the mechanical familiarity.

At the end of the 19th century, Thomas Kane, the only son in a family of famous illusionists, went missing. The detectives at Scotland Yard have been working frantically on the case, but no real progress has been made. Your character, Emma, has taken a keen interest in the incident and taken it upon herself to solve the mystery. Shortly after leaving her house, she happens upon a speeding horse carriage. A teddy bear named Fenton has fallen out of the carriage and somehow become sentient. Fenton chases after the carriage, and Emma follows the bear. Soon, the newfound duo find themselves at the Kane estate, where a shadowy presence has taken over.

The story has an intriguing premise, but Tandem doesn't try to do much with it. There aren't too many cut scenes, and the ones that do appear are almost one-way conversations where Emma says something but Fenton can't verbally respond in kind. There's not much going on in these cut scenes that propel the story anywhere beyond the next major area or fight, and while the ending comes out of left field, it fails to elicit much of a reaction. There are also objects in the world that you can inspect closely, but they seem to exist only to fill in a photo album because there's no opportunity to understand their importance in the context of the game. In short, you can ignore the story and skip the cut scenes and be perfectly fine.

Tandem is a single-player experience, but you'll constantly switch control between both characters. As Emma, you play from a top-down perspective, where you can push blocks and pick up keys to unlock doors. You can't fight any enemies, like mechanical spiders, and you have to be careful about traps, but your main goal is to use your lantern to manipulate the shadows in the environment. As Fenton, you play from a side-scrolling perspective, and you jump on platforms while using the shadows as alternative platforms to stand on. Most of the time, you hit switches to clear the path for Emma, but your main goal is to grab the crystal and toss it to Emma to finish the level and move on.

The core experience is easy enough to understand, and it is easy to visualize which character is needed to affect which item. You're never going to get tricked into thinking that Emma can reach a switch only meant for Fenton, and vice versa. It also helps that most of the levels occupy a small space, so you aren't taking long treks to hit switches before having to switch characters and reacclimate yourself to the environment. The puzzles are clever enough that a few will stump you, and the game is pretty good about gradually introducing you to new things, such as the aforementioned traps, enemies, and sections where Fenton needs to chase moving shadows to reach the desired spot.

One thing that players will appreciate is the forgiving death system. You die often from mistimed jumps and the like, and while those deaths can be gruesome in a bloodless way, Tandem is good about respawning you nearby, so none of the progress has gone to waste. Any item collected before dying is still in your possession, and previously activated switches aren't reset. Considering how other games of this type demand you do it all perfectly in one run, this approach is more inviting and replaces some needless difficulty in favor of the satisfaction of expending some effort to get a good result.

With the game's relatively short playtime of about four hours, it feels odd that the title offers nothing to entice players to return. As stated earlier, there is an art gallery to show off some of the stuff you stumble upon in the environment, but it isn't compelling since it gives you no information about what you're seeing. There's also no difficulty level to toggle, and there are no special modes, like a time attack or anything similar. Games don't always need extras, but for many players, this is very much a "one and done" experience.

From a presentation perspective, Tandem is very hit-and-miss. The segments with Fenton look fine if a little unspectacular, since there's only so much that can be done in grayscale, but the parts with Emma shine more due to the lighting, which produces tons of gorgeous dynamic shadows. Coupled with the Tim Burton-inspired architecture, it looks fantastic and moves at a smooth frame rate, even though there are only a few graphical options to modify. Surprisingly, the cut scenes fare worse than the gameplay; the art style and models don't mesh as well, and the lighting looks rather dull. The video isn't as clean as expected, while the minimal mouth movements make it look cheap.

As for the audio, most of the effects are satisfactory, but you will grow tired of the squeaks and toy-like sounds whenever Fenton jumps and lands. Emma's voice is one of the few you'll hear throughout, and while you can forgive the obvious French accent on someone who's living in the UK, the lack of emotion in the delivery of her lines can't be ignored. The dialogue doesn't match the subtitles much of the time. The musical score is brilliant and fits with the theme of the game's world, even if none of it is memorable after the game is shut off.

Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is good where it counts: the gameplay. It may not be a difficult game, but the puzzles are a fine challenge for the average player, while the relatively short playtime means that the title doesn't feel like a chore. Don't expect too much from the rest of the package, whether that's aesthetics, narrative, or a reason to replay it once the credits roll. Overall, it's good enough to check out if you're itching for a puzzle-platformer.

Score: 7.0/10

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