You know you’re in for a pleasant experience when you’re already chuckling at the first cutscene of a game. That was the case for me when I first started Tembo the Badass Elephant. Developed by Game Freak, a studio best known best for their Pokémon games, Tembo the Badass Elephant is a charming platformer with a brilliant art style and solid controls.
The story in Tembo is told primarily through cutscenes that are broken up into comic-book panels without dialogue. There’s a story here, of sorts. Evil phantoms have appeared seemingly out of nowhere and are terrorizing the island and all of its inhabitants which prompt the army general to call an old war buddy of his (who also happens to be a bandana wearing elephant) for help. It’s up to Tembo to infiltrate the occupied island and free it from the control of the phantom menace.
Throughout your adventure you’ll travel through a city in the middle of being destroyed, the beautiful countryside, an area that looks like an abandoned amusement park, and many others. Each level is bright, colourful, and full of vibrant life. There is so much action going on the screen in every action bit as well as in the backgrounds that it’s easy to take a break from the action simply to enjoy all the madcap anarchy that is happening in the background.
While elephants may not be the first thing many people think of when it comes to animals that can move gracefully or jump with pinpoint precisions, Tembo doesn’t feel clunky as you think an elephant would be. The controls in Tembo feel natural and intuitive as any great platformer game. Holding the charge button to gain more momentum in your jump feels spot on, and it’s easy to control where your bounce attack will land. The ability to hold the jump button for a couple of seconds to keep Tembo temporarily in the air makes it easier to control your jumps and ensure that you land exactly where you want to.
There are a total of 18 different stages which are broken up into different zones. Each zone has their own unique location and design to them, which get increasingly difficult as you progress through the stages. Throughout the stages you’ll jump, smash, and bounce your way through enemies to reach the end. Along the way you’ll also rescue civilians trapped in glass prisons who will cling to your back for the rest of the level.
Every zone in Tembo offers unique elements to them, such as a laser grid that chases you through a portion of the map, or bumpers that push you in all sorts of directions depending on which angle you jump at them (much like in pinball). Each level has their own unique style and charm, making each zone feel like a new experience rather than the same experience over and over. There is a boss at the end of each zone each with their own unique strategies and patterns that you need to master before being able to defeat them. None of them are especially challenging, but it still feels rewarding to defeat after finally figuring out the best way to take them out.
My only complaint with the gameplay is that there were times when the camera didn’t do a good job of showing you where the floor was or when an enemy was directly above or below you. This didn’t happen often, but when it did it was usually in an area where moving an inch too far left or right meant instant death, so the inability to see the floor below you made it a bit frustrating at times.
It’s hard not to make comparisons to other classic platformers while playing through Tembo. The game is quite reminiscent of classic platformers like Crash Bandicoot, Yoshi’s Island, and Sonic the Hedgehog. One game in particular that came to mind throughout my playthrough of Tembo was Donkey Kong Country. There are a lot of similarities between this game and the classic SNES platformer, from the sounds the game makes whenever you pick up peanuts or whenever you jump into a cannon that shoots you to the next part of the level. Through the new gameplay elements and unique art style that the game offers however, Tembo feels more like an homage to the classic platformers of previous generations rather than simply a carbon copy.
Tembo the Badass Elephant is a delightful platformer and one that is easy to recommend for anyone looking for a great game in the genre. It has a unique artstyle that is bright and colourful, and the controls are tight and intuitive. There haven’t been many fantastic platformers on a non-Nintendo system, but Tembo is one of the best so far if you’re looking to scratch that platforming itch.