I swear, if I could give this game of the year for the name alone I would. Unfortunately it’s never that simple. Fortunately however, Tembo The Badass Elephant is one of the best platformers in recent years.
In Tembo The Badass Elephant(I will never get tired of typing this) you play as Tembo who is an elephant and, you guessed it, badass. Have I sold you on this yet?
Created by Game Freak, the developers most known for the Pokemon games, you must dash, bash and smash your way through Shell City in an effort to stop the invasion of a mysterious military force known as The Phantom. Along the way you must rescue hostages, of which there are ten in each level, and collect peanuts in order to create peanut butter, which is Tembo’s version of lives.
A Little Bit of Sonic, A bit of Mega Man, Add Some Rayman...
While Tembo The Badass Elephant doesn’t do anything to innovate and improve on other platformers, it takes the best parts of many other popular platformers and puts them together in a neat package. Whether this was intentional or not, it works wonders either way.
At its core it seems to be a mixture of Sonic’s speed and Rayman’s(The modern games) Momentum. The game encourages you to go fast and to never slow down for the most part. This is particularly satisfying when you’re blazing through buildings, soldiers and blockades and leaving a path of destruction in your wake.
The games also takes more minor queues from other games. Mega Man’s slide is there, Yoshi’s flutter jump is there and the placement of the peanuts throughout the levels feel especially similar to the bananas in the Donkey Kong Country games. This is just to name a few examples.
Hell, there’s even a Carnival zone...set at night...where you turn into a ball and go into a pinball machine. Strange, isn’t it?
Wonderful Art Style
Tembo The Badass Elephant has a fantastic art style that immediately sets it apart from other platformers. It’s unique, comic book style visuals are a joy to look at and the amount of detail put into the levels themselves, the backgrounds and the characters is brilliant. Tembo looks like he belongs in a show on the Cartoon Network instead of looking like something you’d usually see from a Japanese game developer.
Another fantastic part of the art style is the comic book style writing that follows anything you do besides from just walking. Be it “BADABADABADABADA” that happens whenever you dash, or the “HRAAAAANNHH!” that appears whenever he blows his trunk, it never gets old.
The levels themselves are fantastic and varied. There are city levels, train levels, forest levels, carnivals levels and even a rave club level. The game never takes itself seriously and this is best seen in the levels themselves.
Challenging But Not Unfair
I find that nowadays many games struggle with being challenging without falling into the unfair category at times. Luckily Tembo The Badass Elephant nevers falls into unfair territory, and besides from the first two levels and the first boss, never becomes easy either. While I have only had one game over, this is mainly due to the easy acquisition of extra lives(for every 300 hundred peanuts you collect, you get an extra life).
I died many times of course, but using the knowledge you gain on the previous gives the player a significant advantage that helps them blaze through the section that troubled them. Unless it’s the boss, where instead I let myself die once so that I can go into the battle knowing the patterns. Except for the first boss, which I’ll go into more detail later.
While the game encourages to never stop moving, there’s nothing wrong with slowing down to even a complete stop and taking on the level at your own pace, because even then the game will provide some challenge to even the best of players.
Boss Battles Are A Mixed Bag
There are only four boss battles in the game, and while two of them are pretty great, the first boss(seen above) is one of the easiest bosses I have ever fought and the second boss is unremarkable.
To defeat the first boss all I had to do is keep my fingers down on the dash and water buttons and let Tembo do all of the work. I lost a large portion of my health in the process but it seems near impossible to die while using this method against the boss.
The second boss, while making good use of the games mechanics, is neither challenging nor easy. It takes less than a minute to work out it’s patterns and from there on out it doesn’t change at all.
The third boss however is a welcome challenge(and is pretty funny too, if you want to check it out yourself). The unpredictable nature of its attacks meant that I lost many a life to it. 12 to be exact. The final boss is fantastic too, and is reminiscent of the final bosses in both Sonic 2 and Sonic 3.
Do I Go Left? Do I Go Right?
There are multiple points throughout each level where you will come to a fork in the road. You can either go up or down, left or right, and each time one path is a optional path to a few bad guys and a hostage. The only problem is that it is near impossible to tell which way is progression and which way isn’t until it is too late. A lot of the time once you take the path of progression there is no turning back as you usually end up being launched into a cannon or jump off a cliff to the next section of the level.
While it does encourage multiple playthroughs of every level, I can’t help but feel it’s a lazy attempt at adding replayability.
The Soundtrack Is Forgettable
Outside the main theme song, Tembo The Badass Elephant has a forgettable soundtrack. This is hugely disappointing for me as I believe Game Freak creates some of the best soundtracks for their games, especially for the Pokemon series.
The main theme is reminds me of the themes of many 80’s and 90’s action movies and it’s made even better by having an actual elephant’s trumpet mixed in with actual trumpets.
Very Little Replayability
Outside of defeating all the bad guys and rescuing all hostages there’s not much else to bring you back into the game once you’ve completed it. I will definitely play through the game again because of how much fun it is, but once I’ve finished it I can’t see myself going back to it too often.
Rescuing all hostages is no easy feat, mainly because of the progression problem I mentioned above, but I never missed more than two in each level(of which there are ten in every level). What makes it easier is that you’ll usually see how to rescue the hostages you missed once you go by them.
Defeating all enemies is a different challenge altogether, as in most levels there are at least four hundred to hunt down and destroy for the glorious nation of Shell City. In most levels I would manage to defeat the majority of enemies and let me tell you, nothing made me more frustrated than finding out there were only four or five enemies that I missed. I spent far too long on some levels racking my brain trying to find these cowards that wouldn’t face the might of Tembo.
It’s Far Too Short
Including the boss battles, Tembo The Badass Elephant has only eighteen levels. With each levels rarely taking more than 8 minutes to complete, it can be completed in around 2 and a half hours. Probably less on multiple playthroughs. For a game as much fun as this, it’s disappointing that it’s over so soon. Paired with Game Freaks philosophy on DLC, it also seems highly unlikely that we’ll see any more levels added.
Tembo The Badass Elephant is one the best, albeit short, platformers that has came out in recent years. It looks great, the levels are challenging and it is just incredibly fun. If you’re not looking for any of these things in your video game, you are simply not badass enough.
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Review header by Tim C/Unimplied.