Review: TAMASHII

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You know why there are so many first-person horror games, right? Because that’s the easiest way to reach the level of immersion needed to spook a player. It can be done in other genres, as gems like Darkwood and Lone Survivor have shown, but it takes a considerably greater mastery of the genre. TAMASHII makes a good effort, and lands squarely in the creepy/icky section of horror games. Coupled with its clever puzzles, tantalizing secrets, and bizarre cosmology, I’d say that’s plenty to cement this one as a solid horror platformer.

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You have been brought into being by a powerful entity and given a single purpose. The temple belonging to this deity has been corrupted, and you are to purge the place of evil. It’s a simple enough task, as the evil is helpfully contained to just five specific chambers. But there are other entities in the temple, and their aims are not as clear as simple good versus evil. Indeed, your efforts will reveal the horrendous nature of the place, and more about its denizens than you might want to know. But there is a chance for you to transcend the bounds of your existence, and perhaps find a purpose beyond the grim task laid before you by an uncaring god.

TAMASHII claims to be inspired by underground Japanese games of the 80s and 90s, but I don’t really see much of that. The meaty, twisted, blasphemous, sometimes-Geiger art combined with the heavy glitching and scanline effects remind me more of older fringe point-and-click titles or even the subversive cartoons of early MTV than anything. Regardless of what you see in this morass, I can’t deny how effective it is in giving the game an intensely grimy, sinister feel from start to finish. There’s no relief from this oppressive grotesquerie, from the cold metal blades and pulsating meat coating the chamber walls to the charred corpses and goat-headed statues of the temple. And the further you get the more twisted the visuals become, until you’re battling demon fetuses and watching infernal creatures fuck.

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If all that sounds pretty edgy, I think that’s a fair assessment. There’s no deeper symbolism in TAMASHII to explain away demon penises, it’s simply an expression of how warped and depraved this world is. It will absolutely be too much for some folks, but for others it’s a rather unique pushing of limits into Hellraiser territory that isn’t often seen in modern gaming. The cosmology saves it from being mindless shock for shock’s sake, with the horrors you experience being a result of the greater forces at work around you. If you start tracking down the game’s many secrets this is expanded in some delightfully meta ways, capped off by a pretty surprising ending that makes the most of a simple but clever gimmick.

That cleverness extends to the gameplay, even if that aspect isn’t terribly unique. The five chambers of the temple are arranged as series of puzzle rooms leading up to a boss encounter. All you have to tackle these challenges with is your double-jump and the ability to conjure grim totems that activate switches and sigils. You can summon three totems at a time, and they disintegrate after a short time (which you can also speed up yourself). Most puzzles, then, are a matter of using totems to hold switches to allow you to pass different barriers or obstacles. It’s a simple setup but between the five chambers there’s plenty of variety, enough to carry the game’s 90-minute runtime. The bosses are more of a mixed bag but are even more varied than the puzzles, and seeing what greater unspeakable horror lies ahead is one of the game’s little pleasures in progression.

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Being only 90 minutes might give some folks pause, but honestly TAMASHII is exactly as long as it needs to be. The super edgy presentation and visual nightmares would threaten to grate after a few hours, so ending before they wear out their welcome is a smart move. It’s a satisfying game for a single sitting or two, especially once you get in a groove with the puzzles and start uncovering the game’s strange secrets. Is it scary? There really isn’t anything that’s going to make you jump, but the overwhelming grotesqueness of the world is sure to make you uneasy. It’s a unique little title in tone and presentation, and something that fans of off-beat horror should not pass up.

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