I remember when I first learned of Tembo the Badass Elephant when I saw a teaser trailer of it. Besides cracking up laughing at the title and being amazed that Game Freak, the studio behind Pokemon, was teaming with Sega to make it, I loved how it looked and played. Now it’s finally here, where it’s almost as good as I’d thought it would be, but it has some pretty mammoth-sized problems keeping it just short of greatness for most players, but hardcore ones just might find a powerhouse portion of pachyderm perfection.
There’s not much of a story for Tembo, and what’s there is silly beyond imagination. A city comes under attack by the mysterious army called Phantom, and the head of the city’s army called Shell army (as in peanut shell) recalls working with Tembo some time ago in a remote jungle and calls him on the phone for help. After strapping on some military supplies, brushing on some face paint and tying on a bandana, Tembo is ready for action. This where players are introduced to a training stage (both figuratively and literally) where the game teaches you some of Tembo’s skills. Here you’ll learn how to hold a button down to charge forward that knocks enemies and most obstacles out of the way, how to jump and how holding the button down makes him float a little, jumping in the air and pressing the charge button makes him roll into a ball and bounce around, and more such as a butt slam, an uppercut move, and putting out fires with water from his trunk.
Once you’ve tackled this stage, it’s off to the big city as Tembo waves goodbye to a lady elephant (wife?) and a flock of birds tie strings on him and fly him hundreds if not thousands of miles to the city (told you it was crazy) where you meet the head of the Shell army. This is where you’re presented with a map that’s broken into three sections where each of them has multiple levels adding up to 17 stages total. In each stage it’s up to you to guide Tembo and trample over baddies, put out fires and rescue scattered civilians throughout each one while collecting peanuts for your jar that turns to peanut butter when you collect enough that you use to revive each time you die.
Trust me when I say you’ll be needing those peanuts too, as the game is pretty tough, leading me to point out the elephant in the room (pun intended of course), the difficulty and frustrations of Tembo. You wouldn’t think it at first glance, but this deceptively-cute looking game can get really difficult in a hurry as you play, thanks to the controls not coming together like they should. More times than not you’ll be blissfully charging along only to accidently run into some flaming boxes, an enemy bullet, or some other stuff that come off as cheap hits which leads to a lot of cheap deaths. Most of them can’t be helped either, as Tembo can’t stop on a dime and switch to doing something else to dodge stuff like the game expects you too. Then there’s the death counter where you have to kill a certain number of enemies in order to unlock the next stage. Couple this with stages that branch off to different areas with no way of going back, causing you to miss out on some of the enemies you need in order to unlock the next part, and you’re stuck in a loop of frustration as you’ll have to replay levels over and over to reach the next one.
It’s not all gloom and doom though, as at least the game looks and sounds wonderful. The graphics remind me of the artwork from Cartoon Network’s Regular Show mixed with a comic book, as words such as “Bada-Bada” appear when Tembo charges, etc. The animation matches the graphics perfectly as it runs at a buttery smooth 60fps, though an occasional frame rate dip will occur here and there when a lot is going on, but it’s nothing that will take you out of the gameplay. The music and sounds are spot on as well, from the rousing, orchestrated military-like music of the first stage, to Tembo letting out a loud elephant trumpet at the start of every stage, the sounds and visuals come together really well.
Tembo the Badass Elephant is one of those games were I really wanted to love it, but I can’t fully due to the elephant sized flaws it contains. There’s still plenty of pachyderm fun to be had amidst the chaos, though only hardcore platformer gamers need apply. Maybe a future patch will even the odds for casual and regular game players, but for now they’ll probably have more fun shelling peanuts instead.