Written by Games of DAYNE | Reviewed on Xbox Series X
Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is a puzzle-platform adventure set in Victorian London that is as full of clever puzzle designs and constantly introduced new mechanics. Playing as Emma and her newfound teddy bear companion Fenton, the vanishing of a young boy named Thomas Kane drives the pair forward into his family mansion to find him.
Alternating control between the pair is key to solving the myriad of interesting puzzles by using each of their unique abilities to aid the other. A missing child from a family of famous magicians, their mysterious mansion and the union of a little girl and a living teddy bear makes for an intriguing premise and it’s safe to say they are effective ingredients to a recipe that delivers in Tandem: A Tale of Shadows.
Existing on parallel planes, Emma is controlled from a top-down perspective while Fenton moves in 2D above her. The structure of each stage is to guide Emma to a key for a locked door while moving objects in the environment to manipulate the shadows for Fenton to traverse in order to activate pressure plates tied to doors that Emma needs to pass through. Tandem: A Tale of Shadows is simple in its premise but its pleasantly surprising puzzles which increase in complexity with story progression offer some genuine challenges that are rewarding to conquer.
The steady introduction of new ideas, mechanics, enemies to avoid and further ways to manipulate shadows keep the experience engaging, despite its brief runtime of approximately three-to-four hours. This creates some satisfying level design that fully embraces the dual-world aspect that the pair of controllable characters occupy. Some fun timing puzzles are born from the need to keep Emma from harm while also maintaining shadow bridges for Fenton to cross and reach solid ground. The regular introduction of new ways to play prevent the puzzle variety from feeling repetitive or tired.
Balancing light and darkness thematically, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows also capitalises on this visually which makes for an enchanting yet haunted world that is only as dangerous as the darkness allows it to be. Playing from either character’s perspective portrays the world differently which adds to the immersion of their duality. Emma sees things in light while Fenton’s vision is born of the darkness that she creates by moving crates, trolleys and her position with lanterns for instance. The overall style is simplistic but thanks to the appropriate focus on lighting the contrast is very effective.
Each of the five levels is broken into several parts that take Emma and Fenton through the library, boiler room and kitchen for instance, and each has its own unique feel. Considering the adventure unfolds within a mansion the aesthetic goes a long way in differentiating and tormenting these otherwise standard locations.
Accompanied by a haunting score and creepy sound design, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows looks and feels as dark as the tale that has drawn Emma into the mansion in the first place. The lack of character development and explanation of the world and the magic that inhabits it holds the narrative experience back and prevents context from escaping the shadows.
With such well-crafted puzzles and level design, a beautiful presentation and interesting story at its heart, Tandem: A Tale of Shadows feels rewarding with the conquest of each challenge thrown at the player. Without feeling overly difficult, the challenge fails to become frustrating by broadening the player’s scope of exploration due to the dual-world nature of Emma and Fenton’s unique perspectives. Manipulating shadows makes for engaging gameplay and some joyful visual playgrounds.