Developer: Game Freak
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam
Release Date: July 21st, 2015
ESRB: T for Teen
Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game
It“s difficult to associate Game Freak with anything other than PokÃ©mon. But they“ve actually created a handful of unique experiences before and since that craze began. Before Pikachu, there was Pulseman (funnily enough, the first collaboration between Game Freak and SEGA) and Mendel Palace. And more recently, they created two unique 3DS eShop titles with Soriti Horse (a horse-racing...solitaire game exclusive to Japan) and HarmoKnight. I“ve dabbled in all of them, and I quite liked the approaches each game took. Tembo the Badass Elephant caused the Internet to go into a frenzy when it was first announced, because it“s the first title developed by Game Freak that has managed to skip Nintendo consoles entirely — so far. Does Tembo“s quality match his larger-than-life Internet infamy?
In terms of how the game has been presented — from its menus, how each of the game“s levels are presented on the world map, and other various nuances — it definitely feels like it takes a page or two from HarmoKnight. The aesthetics match the premise quite well; don“t get me wrong. But it“s immediately apparent that the same design team that took on HarmoKnight definitely helped out with Tembo the Badass Elephant. Whether that“s a good or bad thing depends on how much you liked the game that came immediately before it. If you“ve not yet tried HarmoKnight, or if this is the first time you“ve experienced what Game Freak can do for your eyes outside of the PokÃ©mon games... I don“t think you“ll be disappointed.
The wacky, comic book style visuals — to the point where every move Tembo makes is accompanied by action-text font such as â€œBOOM!â€ or â€œSLAM!â€ or â€œBADA-BADA-BADAâ€ appearing under his feet as he tramples his way across stages — definitely suit the game. Its attitude and identity are wildly consistent, and its presentation has a fair amount of polish to it. I“m not really the world“s biggest fan of the soundtrack, though. While each level“s theme definitely fits well with its accompanying music, the songs themselves sometimes feel unnecessarily repetitive or samey.
Tembo the Badass Elephant“s gameplay is its defining quality, in my eyes. It has the standard platformer objective of "get to the end in one piece," but there are a few bonus initiatives thrown in, and the gameplay often works hand-in-hand to aid the game“s presentation. It“s super satisfying controlling an elephant that looks like Rambo as he ground-pounds down entire skyscrapers (windows break, cars are destroyed, there“s just absolute mayhem) with several satisfying crunches. Eradicating enemies by using the environment around you sometimes leads to humorous design choices as well — such as watching a giant bowling ball roll over your foes as they run away in terror — to simply hit a switch above you. Or the fact that an enemy could be running at you with a knife, then you jump and watch him hit an explodable box face-first and die.
There are so many small, humorous touches that it makes good level design better. Tembo has a wide variety of moves at his disposal that let you destroy everything in your path, as well as extinguish any exploding fires you“ll create. There are even bosses at the end of each world that are a genuine challenge, but won“t leave you stuck or frustrated from a poor sense of design. Everything about what makes Tembo work handles well, and offers its fair share of surprises.
The things that hold Tembo back from breaking metaphorical ground, though, are some of the choices the developers made that fit vexing stereotypes found in many modern-day â€œscore attackâ€ platformers. Take away the side objectives of destroying every enemy in a level, plus finding each stage“s 10 civilians needing rescued, and you“re left with a $14.99 game with just a hair over fifteen levels. You“ll finish the purposefully bare-bones story by lunchtime and almost feel like you paid too much, if you don“t approach Tembo with the right mindset. This is a game where the levels are meant to be replayed, as you aim for the highest scores to hit online leaderboards and what have you.
The game even forces you to replay levels if you don“t perform well enough, because... each world“s last stage is locked behind a â€œtotal enemies killedâ€ counter that reaches lengths that demand great playthroughs that could leave beginners frustrated. I“m not necessarily going to knock the game down six pegs for following these conventions, I just would have preferred to see more content for that asking price versus locking levels behind â€œHave you destroyed enough?â€ progress points. Even HarmoKnight, which is on the 3DS and priced the same, feels like it has more content than Tembo in the end.
That said though, the experience Tembo the Badass Elephant offers up is great. It feels conventional in some ways, and totally surprises you in others. It“s a humorous, fun action game that feels as zany and explosive as a Saturday morning cartoon. The problem with Saturday morning cartoons, though, is that they don“t last long enough. At the end of the day, I“m not sure I“d recommend everyone buy Tembo right away, and I think these various discounts tied with pre-ordering or PlayStation Plus are there to make the sticker shock a little easier to absorb. It“s a solid, confidently designed experience that feels a little too short for its asking price. Still, if you“re willing to give Game Freak and SEGA a chance, I really don“t think you“ll be disappointed.
+ Tembo's sense of design is stellar and consistent. Presentation often works hand-in-hand with gameplay to create humorous moments.
+ Difficulty is reasonable, and there are a wide variety of platforming situations spread across all the levels.
- Rather than offer more content, some levels are gated to (more or less) force multiple playthroughs.
- Not enough content for the asking price.
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
Tembo the Badass Elephant has a consistent identity, great gameplay, and a handful of surprising moments. Whether or not all that's worth an inflated price is up to you.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a downloadable code provided by the publisher