Tandem: A Tale of Shadows tries to combine eerie storytelling and puzzle platforming and while the latter is done to some success, the game doesn't spend much time telling tales.
What you need to know
What is it? A puzzle platformer with a side dish of storytelling
Reviewed on: PC - Ryzen 5 3600, Radeon RX 5700 XT, 16GB RAM
Developer: Monochrome Paris
Publisher: Hatinh Interactive
Release date: October 21, 2021
Available on: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Switch
Monochrome Paris brought out an adorable game with a style that was obviously influenced by the Victorian era and Tim Burton's animated works and while it has a lot of heart, it does lack substance in some key areas, like storytelling and to a lesser degree - puzzles themselves.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows frames itself as a game that draws inspiration from some of the most interesting dark tale animations, leading the potential players to believe there is quite a story they can sink their teeth in while solving the puzzles each level presents to them.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Storytelling is minimalistic, with the bits being reserved to the beginning of each chapter. Everything in between is devoid of storytelling, except for a line or two each time the player finds or stumbles upon a secret area. Even then, the lines are cryptic and barely tell the player anything, quickly leading to the loss of interest in the story, which is quite a shame since this setting had immense potential.
The game eventually manages to throw in a decent twist but it felt like it came way too late to salvage the narrative and only served to leave us with a cliffhanger.
On the flip side, the music and general ambience are both fantastic. Each story chapter is set in a distinct environment that more or less contrasts the previous one but the team held up with the pace and delivered a significantly different but ultimately satisfying experience each time, both visually and aurally.
Puzzle and platformer games are often defined by their gameplay alone and while Tandem: A Tale of Shadows dips in both genres, it's almost as if the game is afraid to use them to full potential.
There are five chapters in total, with the first one consisting of 11 levels while the subsequent ones are made of eight. With 43 levels in total, it looks great on paper, but most of them feel like basic tutorials for the chapter's mechanics, with only the last level each time being a proper puzzle.
That's not to say there is nothing to enjoy about the levels leading up to the finale of a chapter - they still feel and look delicious, especially the kitchen one, but the game could certainly benefit from more brain teasers. As it stands, the puzzles are fairly easy to solve, which probably reduces the total playtime the buyer might get out of the title.
A total of 18 secrets are peppered across these levels for completionists and those wishing for replayability but the game didn't grip me enough in my first playthrough to make me want to go looking for these nooks and crannies. I did stumble upon a few of them and got a few lines of lore that still didn't satisfy the storytelling needs.
Besides the puzzles and platforming, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows probably has the best utilisation of 2D space I've seen in a game. The two protagonists, Emma and Fenton, navigate each level in their own way.
Emma can move in vertical and horizontal directions freely but she can't jump. Fenton, on the other hand, can only move horizontally and has to jump over platforms in order to ascend or descend in order to cross obstacles. Each of them can manipulate the map in order to let the other one progress, which is the heart of the game and the obvious namesake.
When their teamwork is utilised to the fullest, it makes for truly interesting puzzles that are set in beautiful environments and followed by music that immerses the player but these are typically encountered only at the end of each chapter.
Graphics and sound
As I previously mentioned, art and music are some of the strong points of Tandem: A Tale of Shadows. However, the graphics are not particularly sharp and the resolution keeps looking lower than what was selected.
However, this is most apparent in screenshots. As long as things are in motion, as they mostly are while playing or watching a cutscene, the art style overcomes graphics quality drawbacks and the player is left with an overall pretty looking game. This is probably why the system requirements are so low for the game, making the best out of something that may not necessarily be the game's forte.
As for audio, the game features music that perfectly blends into the atmosphere. This is not an easy thing to achieve but Monochrome Paris pulled it off and there really aren't any complaints on this front. If you do decide to play the game, make a mental note to periodically stop for a moment and enjoy the sounds. They will be perceived only in your subconsciousness otherwise, due to the aforementioned blending into the general ambience.
While the background music is great, I absolutely have to commend the sounds of Fenton's jumping. Those squeaky toy and "boing" sounds make the action highly addictive and possibly the best waste of time you can imagine.
Performance-wise, Tandem ran flawlessly for me with a constantly capped frame rate, no hiccups and no crashes. That said, my PC is well above the recommended specs but considering it only needs an almost half-a-decade-old rig, filled with components that were low to mid-tier at the time, it's safe to say most modern computers are already overpowered and will run the game as smooth as butter.
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows has a lot of unused potential and some parts of the game almost seem unfinished or discarded mid-development but it still manages to deliver an experience well worth your time, should you decide to grab it.
The game costs $24.99 / €24.99 / £13.99 with the first week discount of 30 per cent and offers about six hours of entertainment, per full run. It wasn't mind-blowingly good for me but it certainly wasn't a boring experience or even one that would leave me indifferent. Tandem has good things to offer but falls short of being great because of a handful of glaring issues.