Tembo the Badass Elephant could have been amazing, however it makes you crawl around the levels on your belly, rather than smash through gloriously like the war crazed pachyderm you are.
I’m not a game developer, but I feel I’ve played enough games over the years to know that Tembo commits a pretty big crime to 2D platformers. One that sadly detracts from all the positives the game does have to make this more of a grind than a pleasure to play.
Tembo has all the ingredients to be an absolute classic with the excitement of a cartoon Rambo in an elephant skin, but unfortunately it frequently gives you the sadness reserved for Dumbo.
Initially, the collaboration by SEGA and Game Freak appeals massively. There are lovely cartoon-like visuals which see the elephant, Tembo, called in to help during a time of war. You boost across the training level and first level bouncing into tanks, crates, smashing down enemies and causing unimaginable amount of carnage along the way. You move at a stunning speed (when boosting), and there are plenty of crates, enemies and peanuts to collect which give it a healthy mix of Sonic and Crash Bandicoot.
For each level, you are tasked with destroying as many enemies, structures and vehicles as possible along with collecting a number of captured civilians (who brilliantly ride you). These all account for your final level score. During the first level, I blasted through in one long run, barely stopping and collected all but one civilian and destroyed all but 10 enemies. This is how I thought the game would progress, much like a speed runner would play Mario (or anyone would play Sonic). Play fast, have quick reactions and enjoy the level.
It is from here that it sadly goes from speed runner delight, to a slow crawl. With Tembo, you want to run fast! The game makes you want to keep boosting and speeding around destroying everything you see, but the level design stops and starts this far too often, and there are multiple sections where you go from blistering pace to a standstill. Unfortunately Tembo doesn’t transition well between blistering pace and going slow.
There are also other obstacles in each level such as various bomb crates, fire pits, explosives and vehicles. Again, because the game makes you want to go at such speed, you often take unnecessary damage because you ran right into a fistful of bomb crates and you can’t do anything about it. You also have a smattering of glorious demolition with massive bowling balls taking enemies down like a game of Donkey Kong, destroying huge building and butt-smashing your way through levels.
Lives are handled with Jars of Peanut Butter (what else), and you refill your lives through collecting peanuts (and giant peanuts). Throughout the level, you will burn through lives quick if you try the fast style of gameplay.
Visually, the game is gorgeous, from the intro and transitions that are etched out in a comic book style to the glorious visuals of the levels, everything is bright, explosions look brilliant and the visuals keep up with the speed that Tembo wants you to run. You also get an amazing comic book style text coming from Tembo, much like a speech bubble. One thing I did notice, and I don’t know if it is just me, the initial loading time and loading times between certain sections is massive. At first I thought the game had crashed, but it took around 3-4 minutes at the start just to load the first menu up. A patch should optimise this.
The audio is another shining feature of Tembo, with the above mentioned comic book style speech bubbles appearing from Tembo when you do various actions, you also get brilliant audio to go along with this. There is great music in the background, all the enemies make a lovely scream when they get trampled, it all works well with the games theme and styling.
Another downfall of the gameplay is the locked out levels. Much like mobile games where you need to collect (insert random currency here), before you can proceed to further levels. In Tembo’s case you need to attain a certain level score (from crushing enemies to saving civilians) before you can proceed. The first instance of this is that in order to unlock level 4 you need to have a minimum score of 600, I had 597 first time around, meaning I had to replay a whole level to get the missing 3. A bit frustrating and makes it feel like more of a mobile game and massive grind than it needs to be; this could be removed. You want to be playing as a badass elephant instead of a humble scavenger, replaying levels for scraps!
I had the most fun blasting through the levels at high speed. This doesn’t give you the best score, or even a passable score to proceed through the locked out levels, so you end up having to go back to levels and play through them methodically hunting out enemies and civilians. This would be all well and good if the game didn’t make you want to go so fast. That is the main gripe here.
By making you replay levels to get the best score, this will extend the gameplay by a few hours, and will attract the achievement and high score hunters in everyone. I am all for unlocking extra content as a reward for getting the best scores, but not the main game. It really does put a downer on the experience. One final note of negativity, and it goes along with the general theme of the game, the controls are far too twitchy. By that I mean that in this sort of game you want precise clear-cut controls. Tembo doesn’t have this. Instead the controls either don’t respond to inputs (I checked on two controllers), or they respond really slowly causing mistakes when you are trying to run super fast. I think again a patch for some optimisation could fix this easily.
You may think with all this supposed negativity that I don’t like Tembo, that isn’t the case here. It is just that the first part of the gameplay makes you want and almost need to play in a certain way, the speed way. The later levels require more methodical thinking and make you almost re-learn and rethink the way you go about the levels. Once I was over this change of gameplay style and I learnt to slow down in the levels, I began to enjoy the game all over again, just in a whole new way and had a whole new appreciation for what the game is. Instead of a speed runner as it appears at first, it is more of a general platformer. Think Mario instead of Sonic.
If you can get over the shift in gameplay from intense speed to downright crawl, then you too will enjoy Tembo. It is just a shame that when you are having the most amount of fun the game can offer, you can’t proceed in the levels. When you aren’t smashing through the levels, you aren’t having the most amount of fun, which is a shame. Tembo is something I would 100% recommend if you didn’t have to unlock more levels with your previous scores. It is still worth a go, but be prepared to grind through the levels.
Tembo is a speed runner trapped in a slow level unlock mechanic. At heart you are made to want to run fast and destroy everything in sight, but the game detracts from this far too often and makes you slow down too much. But for £9.99 (£8.99 launch price), you could have an absolute blast, as long as you know what to expect. If you enjoy the grind, and repeating levels over and over to get the best score, this is for you. The game will come in to its own and be enjoyed the best once you have unlocked all the levels and can just blast through for fun.