Tembo the Badass Elephant – Review

Title   Tembo the Badass Elephant
Developer  Game Freak
Publisher  SEGA
Platform  PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Windows PC
Genre  Platformer
Release Date  July 21st, 2015

SEGA have a little bit of heritage when it comes to making fast-moving platformers featuring traditionally slow animals, but when you first see Tembo, the titular star of Tembo the Badass Elephant, you don’t expect the grace with which he moves. And in this new age of 2D platforming games (because retro-styled games are popular and cheap to make) you don’t expect games quite this well put-together.

As Tembo, an elephant that works for the army, you are tasked with ramming and rushing your way through several short(ish) levels looking for enemies to kill, peanuts to collect, and captives to rescue and, as an elephant, you haven’t got too many moves at your disposal.

You can run, jump, uppercut, divebomb, and spray water from your trunk. Thankfully, the game doesn’t introduce new moves or elements like games are so fond of doing these days, so Tembo feels immediate rather than having its first few levels act as a glorified tutorial.

Generally, you are always headed from left to right. There is a little bit of up and down movement, but with nice short levels, and a minimal amount of backtracking, this isn’t a Metroidvania-type sprawler either. I like my games like I my women – linear and short-lived – and in this respect Tembo is quite refreshing.

Progress is quite straightforward and the levels aren’t too difficult to navigate through, although the challenge does build steadily, but to unlock later levels you do need to have collected enough dead enemies, which means that there is a reliance on replaying levels, especially if you want to unlock all the game’s trophies. I’m not always a big fan of having to replay levels (I found it particularly offensive in Aces of the Luftwaffe recently) but with short levels like this it works quite well and encourages a bit of exploration.

Aside from a few boss battles to break up the action, there’s not a huge amount of variation here. This is good in one way as it means the difficulty curve isn’t skewed by a need to constantly evolve the action. Any veteran of the 16-bit era will recall how every platformer had underwater levels and slippy-slidey ice levels, but Tembo sticks to its core gameplay instead and I quite like that. Indeed, for a game about an elephant, there’s very little fat here. There’s not too many levels, an abundance of moves, or much plot to get through.

The presentation is excellent too. Retro-styled gameplay usually comes with retro-styled graphics but Tembo combines really well drawn and animated sprites with 3D backdrops that are a lot more polished than the usual 2D indie platformers (about feelings) that we are so used to getting.

Some might say that Tembo could use a bit more variation and maybe more levels, but as a fan of cutting out the bullshit, I’m very pleased with what SEGA have put out here. A sequel could add more nonsense later on but as debut, Tembo does everything I need it to.

  • Polished gameplay that doesn't overstay its welcome
  • Tight controls
  • Good difficulty curve
  • Fantastic presentation
  • May seem a bit short and lacking in variation
  • Not for you if you don't like platforming games
  • Boss battles can seem a bit random

Slicker than the average elephant and twice as dainty, Tembo is indeed one badass platformer for fans of the genre who are a bit bored of guiding dead boys around purgatory or whatever the fuck passes for fun these days.

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One Comment

  1. Ste Ste says:

    I’ve had my eye on this, looks good.

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