Dumbo Meets Rambo
Game Freak (of Pokémon fame) have developed this stampeding platformer under Sega’s gaze, and it would seem they’ve opted for an unlikely platform hero in the shape of an elephant in order to bring the classic platformer back. Seeing as Sonic’s now the Reek to Mario’s Ramsay Snow, I was certainly willing to give Tembo a shot.
A new controller may well be on your shopping list soon if you’re planning on getting through Tembo the Badass Elephant though. This retro 2D platformer is one of those games I like to refer to as Bastard Hard. I’ve called it much worse over the last few days, but I’m probably not allowed to print such tirades.
There’s a war going on and Tembo is a Rambo-esque elephant veteran coming out of retirement to take on the Phantom forces, a bunch of baddies who wear a lot of purple while firing grenades and fireballs or they buzz around in tanks, choppers and jetpacks.
Tembo doesn’t do guns though. Instead he’ll charge through enemies, uppercut them with his trunk or butt-slam them. The first thing you’ll want to do is remap the awful controls. The default ones have charge on Square and jump on X, and seeing as you need to hold Square while jumping a lot, it can get messy.
The best I could get from the three presets was Circle for jump (gross) and charging on L1/L2. But this isn’t the end of the problems, as the controls are frequently too twitchy to handle. Press up when charging and you’ll stop and perform an uppercut, ruining any momentum and royally screwing you on stages when fleeing a wall of lasery death.
This uppercut move occurs accidentally throughout, even though you know damn well, your thumb didn’t roll the stick anywhere close to an upwards direction. The d-pad controls don’t fare any better either. It’s a real shame the controls are so unpredictable as you can tell much of the early game is meant to be played at speed, but it’s almost impossible to maintain momentum.
Missions have you navigating lengthy side-scrolling stages, usually using Tembo’s powerful dash to smash through crates, trees, walls, houses and more in a destructive charge that’s more than capable of raising a few smiles. Enemy soldiers can also be trampled underfoot, racking up points as you go.
Tembo doesn’t have any ranged attacks, aside from being able to spray water from his trunk to put out fires or stun soldiers. So when soldiers, tanks and choppers start to open fire, you’ll need to get up close to attack them. Oddly enough, Tembo isn’t particularly spry as an elephant and the platforming to nip in between slow moving bullets and rockets can feel very cumbersome and there’s a lot of him to get hit.
You can take a reasonable number of hits before losing a life, but health packs and checkpoints are miserably thin throughout the game, meaning you’ll have to replay huge chunks of levels. Worse, yet, once you run out of lives, you’ll have to restart the entire stage (retro rules apply), but you’re at least given another five lives. If you’re going into a stage with only a couple of lives, you may want to kill off Tembo a few times to start with a full supply.
Boss fights are a welcome distraction and are an old school treat, if not slightly maligned by the dodgy controls. That and trying to hide the rather large Tembo from a hail of bullets can be very difficult. Old schoolers will get a thrill from working out a boss’ routines though and pushing through until victory.
The cartoony graphics are a great fit for the game and the bright colours are reminiscent of past Sega games. The forest is a highlight, although that’s probably because I got to smash through loads of trees in one of the game’s more destructive levels. Look out for the giant pinball machine in another stage too, Sonic fans.
It’s highly likely you’ll have to replay some stages to get the required enemy kill count to progress onto later stages. So, if you have been blasting through the stages quickly and trying to have fun, you’ll be punished for it. Instead, the game rewards exploring the stages and looking for hidden routes where you may find more enemies for your collection. With such a staunch difficulty throughout though and rogue controls, you’ll question this oddly punishing use of your time. You’re meant to be having fun after all.
- Great visuals
- Smashing through the stages can be fun
- Bosses have old-school charm
- Controls aren’t fit for the job
- Stingy checkpoints
- Have to replay levels for missing kills
The Short Version: The controls and the way they unpredictably unleash the wrong moves at the worst possible time really disrupt Tembo’s platforming gameplay. Pair this with a no-mercy difficulty and you have a frustrating mess that could have been so much more.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One | PC
Developer: Game Freak