Our pals over at Funstock have published a game called Tandem: A Tale of Shadows, and they’re keen to get the word out about it — so they sent us a copy of its Magical Box Edition that is currently available to order and invited us to give it a go.
Since the game looked intriguing and features a thoroughly appealing protagonist in the form of young Emma, I happily agreed — and so here we are. We’re first going to take a look at the contents of said Magical Box Edition, and then a quick look at what you can expect from the gameplay, too — so let’s get started!
Here it is in all its glory. Like most collectors’ editions these days, the actual game comes outside of the main collector’s box, so you can keep all the goodies pristine if you choose to. We’ve been taking a look at the Nintendo Switch version, but the game is also available for PlayStation 4.
Here’s a closer look at the front of the Switch case, with its artwork of protagonist Emma and Fenton the teddy bear, who plays a key role in gameplay.
Here’s the back of the box, featuring the game’s blurb in five different languages to cover all our friends in Europe.
Here’s the back of the main “Magical Box” for Tandem, featuring Fenton the teddy bear. I feel obliged to point out that he’s not actually vomiting profusely, that is an unfortunately positioned light reflection that I didn’t notice until I started compiling these photos for publication. Also it’s quite funny. But no, he’s not being sick.
Inside the “Magical Box” itself, the star of the show is the figurine depicting Tandem’s main protagonist Emma. She’s safely and snugly tucked away in some foam, so you can keep her pristine if you want to — or you can easily pop her out and display her on a shelf.
The figurine is made of vinyl and is of nice quality, accurately depicting Emma’s appearance from the game. Her curious, slightly judgemental expression makes her ideal for positioning near your proudly displayed collection of hentai games.
Here’s Emma standing next to Tandem’s Switch case and the Magical Box itself, to give you an idea of scale. She’s a nicely sized figure — a bit bigger than a Nendoroid, but slightly smaller than your average Figma or Pop-Up Parade figure.
Also in the Magical Box Edition is an artbook, featuring a selection of lovely shots from the game’s cutscenes, which all have a distinctly Tim Burton-esque feel to them.
There’s also this page of newspaper reports, ads and posters that are normally just seen in the background in some of the game’s scenes. The level of detail that’s been put into these is testament to how committed developer Monochrome Paris are to creating an authentic-looking Victorian England-inspired aesthetic for the game.
There’s also some absolutely beautiful high-resolution shots of some of the locales and characters from Tandem, highlighting the gorgeous aesthetic of the game and showcasing the love and attention that has been put into it.
So let’s talk about the game itself, because there’s a really enjoyable puzzler here to go along with all the goodies in the box.
In Tandem, you take on the role of Emma, who has taken it upon herself to search for Thomas Kane, the son of a famous family of illusionists. While exploring London, Emma sees a carriage whizz past her, and Fenton the teddy bear falls out of the window at her feet.
To Emma’s surprise, Fenton immediately gets up and starts chasing after the carriage — so, curious about what on Earth is going on, Emma decides to pursue also. She eventually finds herself on the grounds of the Kane mansion, Fenton goes a bit weird and a crow carries off a crystal that looks important. And thus begins a grand adventure.
Tandem is a puzzle game that essentially operates as a “single-player co-op” title. The action unfolds from two perspectives simultaneously: you control Emma from a top-down perspective, while Fenton can be controlled from a side-scrolling perspective positioned at a 90-degree angle to what Emma is up to. This means that when you’re controlling Fenton, you can still see Emma from a top-down perspective in the “background” of what he’s up to — and likewise, while controlling Emma, Fenton appears to be attached to platforms high “above” the area Emma is exploring.
You take control of either Emma or Fenton one at a time rather than simultaneously, and the pair will need to cooperate in order for both to progress. Fenton, for example, often needs to stand on switches to open gates for Emma, while Emma typically needs to move objects that cast shadows for Fenton to walk on.
Yes, that’s the main twist in Tandem, hence the “A Tale of Shadows” subtitle: Fenton is able to not only walk on physical platforms, but also strong shadows. Thus, negotiating most of the levels involves moving Emma around so that either her lantern casts suitable shadows for Fenton to get around, or, in the cases of levels where her lantern isn’t working, positioning objects so that static light sources cast helpful shadows.
Initially, the game is very “safe”, and it gradually introduces you to the basic concepts you’ll be using throughout. The controls are simple, straightforward and easy to understand, but the fact you’re given the opportunity to practice each of the core concepts in a safe environment before the challenge factor ramps up is very welcome indeed — particularly because once that challenge factor ramps up it does so quite sharply!
Partway through the first of the game’s five “worlds”, enemies are introduced, initially in the form of spiders. These have a visible vision cone, and if Emma enters that cone, they will chase after her and wrap her up in a cocoon with an absolutely horrifying screech; arachnophobics need not apply. Thankfully, immediately after making a mistake like this, both Emma and Fenton simply reset to the last “checkpoint” in the puzzle that you reached, allowing you to quickly try another strategy.
And those strategies are quite varied. Sometimes you’ll simply need to block the enemies from being able to reach Emma somehow, usually by moving an object or closing a gate. Sometimes you’ll need to lure the enemies out by using Fenton to make a noise, then quickly switching to Emma to sneak past while they’re distracted. And sometimes you’ll need to manipulate the enemies’ behaviour in such a way that Emma is able to get into a space that they were once occupying in order to progress further.
One thing is constant, however: there’s no combat. Tandem is all about outwitting rather than defeating enemies, and this is even true in the game’s “boss” levels, the first of which sees you manipulating the environment so that a horrifyingly enormous Jack-in-the-box can extend his “neck” fully, allowing you to reach the next area.
That’s not to say you won’t need quick reflexes at times in Tandem, mind; some of the levels in which you need to sneak past the enemies require precise timing as you switch between the characters, as a moment’s lapse in judgement or a flaw in your plan can easily result in failure. Thankfully, frustration is kept to a minimum with the immediate respawns and lack of “punishment”; although challenging, Tandem ultimately wants to see you succeed.
I also very much appreciate the fact that it doesn’t feel the need to pad itself out unnecessarily with artificial longevity such as time trials, mobile game-style “three-star” ratings or hidden collectibles. Tandem knows that the star of its show is its puzzles — and thus it lets them shine without any external distractions.
This is, quite honestly, a blessed relief after so many games today feel the need to overdo the ego-massaging with excessive reward and unlock systems. Tandem keeps things simple; it knows that solving a tricky puzzle is rewarding in itself, and you don’t need three stars, a gold medal, experience points or a shower of coins to tell you that. Simply making progress in the game is satisfying in its own right, and that’s something that can be easy to forget today.
Tandem’s aesthetic is gorgeous, with the in-game visuals matching the cutscenes very nicely; as you might expect, the Switch version runs at a slightly lower resolution and level of visual fidelity than other incarnations of the game, but the core aesthetic is very much intact. The use of strongly contrasting colours, the use of light and shadow as not only a core part of the game’s look and feel but also its mechanics, and the delightfully mysterious music; all of it combines to create a truly memorable adventure that will charm you immediately.
If I had to nitpick, the load times between levels are a bit long and these could have been made to feel a little less noticeable if the game’s excellent music continued while loading rather than leaving the player in complete silence, but this really is a minor issue at best — particularly since the game is well-designed enough to not require additional loading should you find yourself needing to restart a level or recover from a mistake.
Tandem is a thoroughly lovely game, then, and one that fans of creative puzzle adventures should absolutely have on their “to-play” list. A hearty congrats to our pals at Funstock for a successful release — and if this all sounds like your sort of thing, you can nab the Magical Box Edition for PlayStation 4 here, for Nintendo Switch here, or also standard editions for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.
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