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Tembo The Badass Elephant Review

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On 09/16/2015 at 02:16 PM by Casey Curran

An elephant single-handedly winning the war on terror. This must be what the GOP dreams about.

For fans of 16 bit platformers, elephant lovers, and Republicans

At the beginning of the year, a friend of mine and I were discussing our favorite games of 2014. His was Far Cry 4, citing how his favorite part was riding elephants, while mine was Dragon Age: Inquisition noting how much fun the dragon hunts were. We reached the conclusion that if a game could let you fight dragons with elephants, it would be the game of forever. I bring this up because the first boss of Tembo: The Badass Elephant is a robot dragon. That’s right, the coolest thing I have ever thought of and this game outdid that idea. While not quite the greatest game ever I imagined, what Tembo offers is pretty damn fun.

The premise is very simple: The military needs help and calls in an elephant to single handedly win the war on terror. Because this universe is much cooler than the one we live in. Yet its importance to the gameplay is very slightly above the various 8 and 16 bit platformers which inspired Tembo, only offering anything to people who really love elephants.

The core mechanics behind Tembo are some of the most fun I have seen from a 2D platformer in years. There are three main actions in the game: jumping, charging, and shooting water. Jumping needs no introduction while shooting water is a very situational mechanic used against various fires in the path, often as a part of a puzzle. The puzzles are mostly optional in the game, yet land rewards in rescuing various hostages scattered across each level.

Charging is what separates Tembo from the pack, offering a gameplay experience akin to Sonic the Hedgehog meets The Incredible Hulk. While charging, Tembo feels like an unstoppable force, crushing all kinds of barriers in his way while smashing through various enemy forces and crates full of collectables. This creates an absurdly fun core mechanic, as I would grin with delight every time a long stretch of charging was in my immediate future. Not only is it ridiculously fun, but it helps Tembo feel unique, as very few games I have played offered this kind of rush and none have achieved it the same way.

Though Tembo feels like an unstoppable force, however, the game still manages to present a strong challenge throughout its run. Tembo can only take five hits before losing a life while health pickups are few and far between. Earlier on, this feels impressive, as a steep challenge and feeling invincible seldom go together, yet work well here. It is only until you reach the later levels that this becomes an annoyance.

As the game progresses, enemies start taking more hits to the point where fighting them feels tedious. The enemy placement does not fare much better either, as Tembo is well equipped to dodge attacks from a few enemies, yet moves either too slow or offers too little control over his movements (depending on whether you are charging or not) and is too bulky to make taking on many enemies at once fun and satisfying. To make matters worse, the charging sections which make you feel so powerful become scarcer during these later bits.

This steep challenge is further hurt by the game’s decision to implement a life system. Collecting three hundred peanuts gives a jar of peanut butter, which are Tembo’s lives. Losing one puts him at the last checkpoint while losing all of them sends the player back to the level select menu, requiring players to restart the level all over. Levels can get pretty long while lives are not as common as recent Mario games, meaning it’s almost certain that this will happen at some point throughout the game. The life system as a whole feels unnecessary, adding tedium rather than challenge.

Certain levels are also gated off until the player does a certain amount of damage to enemy forces. Abolishing these forces can be done through beating enemies, destroying enemy technology, and rescuing hostages. This mechanic adds an extra motivation to explore and discover secrets with levels through a fun and interesting goal of destroying everything in your path. On the other hand, it creates a small level of stress in knowing getting through a level is not enough. While the requirements are low, the design choice still creates a nagging feeling that you have to meet a certain requirement to progress. I feel offering bonus levels instead would have worked better.

Boss fights feel similar to Donkey Kong Country Returns, offering bosses with lots of health and varying attack patterns as you progress. The last boss in particular feels like a ripoff of the final boss from Retro’s first DKC title, offering very similar attack patterns and levels of fun. This boss is so long and annoying to fight that I decided after ensuring it was the final boss and would not lead to anything that the game was not worth finishing. The boss has far too many forms, turning the fight into annoying rather than thrilling.

Even while ending on a sour note, however, Tembo is still a very fun and satisfying game. The strengths of its charging mechanic are enough to overcome any and all of the game’s various missteps. Whether you are a fan of 16 bit platformers or elephants, Tembo should offer a fun and thrilling experience. I hope we see more of Tembo in the future; whether Gamefreak gets a stab at a sequel or, at the bare minimum, makes him into a Pokémon. 

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Nick DiMola Director

09/16/2015 at 04:17 PM

I generally enjoyed this game and I'd say my thoughts mirror yours almost exactly. The end boss was really terrible and the life system was something of a mess. Given the length of the levels, it was totally possible to die toward the end and have to repeat the whole damn thing.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that you didn't get a fresh stock of lives in between levels. So you could conceivably enter a level with only one or two lives rather than a full stock of five, making it even harder to get through the whole thing. Chessa and I got in the habit of suiciding upon entering a level in order to get a full stock of lives before bothering to trudge through the next epic level.

Oh, the other annoying thing was the mid-air pinball attack thing. Unless you're exactly on the ground, you won't do a run forward, you'll turn into a ball and pinball diagonally forward. It took a lot of brain training to keep myself from attempting to run mid-air as the resulting action often resulted in insta-death. This made the game feel a bit clunkier overall, which was kind of a bummer.

All that being said, it was a fun game that encouraged multiple playthroughs of levels to collect all the stuff and beat the leaderboard scores.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

09/17/2015 at 01:02 PM

Wow...Game Freak made this?  That's interesting. Sounds llike a game that's fun at first, but get annoying by the time you make to the end (if you even make it that far).  I'll probably pass, but maybe I can check out some YouTube videos of the game in action.  Visually, it looks great.


09/26/2015 at 12:11 AM

That friend of yours sounds pretty cool. I still need to get to this game. Sounds like a lot of fun and a bit different compared to a lot of 2D platformers. Bummer about the final boss. I hated that boss you are comparing it to.

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