STAFF REVIEW of Tandem: A Tale of Shadows (Xbox One)

Saturday, November 27, 2021.
by Peggy Doyle

Tandem: A Tale of Shadows Box art Have you ever seen someone drop something and immediately tried to catch them to give it back? A glove, a card, money... could be anything. I have done this many times, and this is the sort of situation in which we find our main character Emma in Tandem: A Tale of Shadows. Emma is a 10 year old girl fascinated with the disappearance of a famous young boy (Thomas Kane) in Victorian Era London. Thomas is the son of a famous family of magicians. When Scotland Yard has decided to end their investigation, she decides to head to the home of the Kane family to see if she can find any clues. On her way, a carriage passes, and a small Teddy bear named Fenton falls out. As the Teddy jumps up and gives chase to the carriage, Emma follows, and they end up at the mansion she was already heading to. Both Emma and Fenton are very small compared to items in the mansion adding to the depth and dimension of the puzzles and obstacles they must move through.

Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is the console debut of Monochrome Paris. It looks like a Tim Burton movie on the screen and has a delightful creepiness as the duo adventure through the mansion together. The puzzle game is divided into two planes of play. Emma moves through the ‘real’ world, in full colour and using a top-down views, while Fenton exists in the shadow world, using black and white side scrolling gameplay. He walks on the walls of the mansion. Fenton is the only one doing any platforming, as Emma can’t jump, but Emma is the one who must manipulate objects in the levels to create shadows for Fenton to navigate. She carries a lantern to provide a light source to aid in creating the correct shadows needed. Fenton’s primary job is reaching switches and buttons otherwise impossible for Emma to reach. While they move independently, and you can switch between them with a simple click with 'RB', they both rely on one another to get to the end of each level safely.

Each of the five chapters has between 8 and 10 levels to complete and each is filled with many obstacles. Each chapter is also a different area of the Kane mansion. Kitchen, greenhouse, boiler room, etc. Each room had steampunk inspired inventions and designs, all adding to the mystery of the family that lived there. Some of the obstacles are spiders who will attack on sight, bees attracted to any source of bright light, gears with spikes, locked doors and gates, a myriad of things to bypass to get through to get to the end. Not all creatures you encounter are dangerous either. Giant gelatinous blobs can be manipulated to create various platforms to help create shadows where there wasn’t any. Switching between characters was more satisfying than I anticipated. The complete contrast of light vs dark, colour vs black and white, top-down vs side scrolling was immersive for the senses, and I found myself constantly surprised at how different each character played in a game that’s seems so simple on the surface.

Both Emma and Fenton can die, often in quite grisly ways for a game that looks like a children’s cartoon. There is no real punishment for dying though, you will respawn quite close to where you died, in the closest safe spot. The puzzles are quite easy, and more often than not when I became stuck, it was because I was overthinking something that ended up being obvious. Unfortunately, the camera movement in the game didn’t help with looking around. You can’t really move it freely, so sometimes you couldn’t see in rooms or around corners easily. Gaps and walls are easily missed when playing as Emma due to always just using a top-down view. After completing each level you are transported out to the main map where you move forward like a giant board game. The was also where you could go back and replay parts if you were achievement hunting and missed something. Each level was quite quick, about 10-15 minutes, meaning this was a great game to pick up and put down at any point. The entire game only took around 3-4 hours for me to complete, even when going back to pick up a few missed achievements.

Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton, Jules Verne, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are clear influences in this game, from dialogue to animation style. Sadly, this game doesn’t have near the narrative of any of them. Other than the opening sequence in the game, there is little narrative throughout the entirety of the game. Each level’s target is to grab a key and open the door to the next level where there are more obstacles. There was little character development of either Emma or Fenton, and she was far too brave for any 10-year-old child. Giant bugs elicited a simple ‘this place is dangerous.’ Not even a shriek or hint of being scared. There are many secret rooms to find throughout the games where the narrator gives you more to the missing boy's story, but I found myself often more confused after hearing the tidbits.

The soundtrack blended perfectly with the artistic design. Fun and light at times, then dark and foreboding, constantly urging you to move forward to see what lay behind the next wall or around the next corner.

Level and puzzle design were well executed in Tandem with each level adding in a new mechanic to add on to previous levels. Emma could be asked to hide from giant spiders or robot sentinel eyeballs while Fenton opens a gate for her to sneak by unnoticed. Later levels replied on puzzle solving, timing, and some pretty quick switching back and forth. Some of the quicktime events were most noticeable in the kitchen level where Fenton had to rotate oven knobs to turn fire on and off for Emma to move through sections. The puzzles kept me moving at a steady pace for the duration of the game until it came to a rather abrupt, and somewhat surprising ending, which left me with a lot of questions. So many questions, in fact, that I jumped into the games discord server to ask if there is a sequel planned. Currently there isn’t, sadly, so I’m left to fill in the blanks for myself.

Tandem suffers from a few technical issues on Xbox. It launched on October 21 but was a few days before I could access the game due to a porting issue. Meanwhile other platforms didn’t seem to encounter this. I was also unable to unlock achievements for completing chapters. Only one of the five popped for me. I brought this to the attention of the developers, they were unaware of the issue but set to work to fix it. Although quick to fix, it took some time to deploy the patch. The patch dropped on Nov 26th, and I am pleased to report that all achievements were able to be unlocked now.

Well executed level design and mechanics, an adorable animation style, and interesting mechanics kept me engaged for the entirety of the game. Achievement bugs were my only real complaint about Tandem, and they were addressed by the team is a relatively quick manner. The story was a bit twisted, dark, and left me wanting more, but I think that is also a good thing. I would recommend trying out Tandem if you enjoy puzzle platformers and want to try something a bit different than some of the others out there.

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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