Tembo The Badass Elephant (Xbox One) Review
Fluid comic-book art style
Auto-pilot level design, annoying combat, cheap level design
Controls have learning curve
The Pachyderm Burn –
Created by the same development team behind the Pokemon series, Tembo the Badass Elephant mixes the liner 2D platforming of ‘Splosion Man with the colorful visual aesthetic of HarmoKnight, another Game Freak created title. Published by Sega, this ass kicking pachyderm is also available on Steam and PS4 for $15.
The evil Phantom Army has invaded and it is up to Tembo to save the day. Told through a motion comic, Tembo is summoned via tree phone (don’t ask) and is flown to America by a pack of little birds Up-style. To be clear, this 2D platformer is not an endless runner even though the screenshots make it look so. The goal is to complete each stage by reaching Point A to Point B while collecting tons of items and killing members of the Phantom Army along the way.
Stream #1 (with bonus rage quit at the end):
The gimmick behind this badass elephant is not only his Rambo-style bandana but also his play control. Controls are responsive and each of the 18 levels are built around his dash, jump, butt stomp, and trunk water hose attack. Because this elephant moves fluidly and can start the dash attack instantly, this downloadable title feels like an endless runner at times. This is actually a little strange because the player sees no reward for completely stages quickly, but rather thoroughly, outside of leaderboard rankings. Each stage has literally hundreds of items to collect and enemies to smash and the player is rewarded with a higher score for being complete, similar to Rayman Origins for example. Completionists will find replay value in replaying stages until perfection; this also will unlock high scoring Achievements.
Despite the awkward and somewhat confusing opening comic-book opening cutscene, the visuals make it seem like the player is controlling a cartoon with heavy outlines, exclamation bubbles like “bam” and “pow” pop up during most actions creating that interactive comic book aesthetic, and features a bright color palette. The soundtrack, but more specifically the sound effects, is what make Tembo’s audio department stand out. It just wouldn’t be the same without that trumpety elephant call, making it seem like Tembo is a spiritual successor to some long lost Pokemon genome. The personality shines through even though the gameplay doesn’t.
Stream #2 (I beat level 4 this time but get frustrated with the next couple stages):
Like ‘Splosion Man, Tembo suffers from too make scripted events that puts the game on auto-pilot a little too often. The linearity found in most stages holds back the full potential of this elephant platformer. Unlike the Mario series, for example, which saturates gameplay with power-ups, branching paths, and the freedom to finish stages in different ways, Tembo is restricting because there is often only one way to complete a task. There are only so many boards to crash through, enemies to charge into, and canons to shoot out of before the repetition sets in. All these actions repeat throughout most stages and numbs the gameplay. And while the play control is responsive, it takes time to become accustom to the air attack. After jumping, Tembo does this speedy forward angled air strike that can lead to unnecessary damage or even instanta-death. His flutter jump, stolen from Yoshi, seems underused and might have been more entertaining with a double jump ability. The Lives system is also a poorly designed. If the player dies a handful of times within a stage, a complete restart is required. While this normally wouldn’t be too much of an issue in most platformers, Tembo suffers from a weak checkpoint system combined with cheap instant death scenarios. You can see how frustrated I get but watching one of these embedded streams. Also, the initial load time just to boot to the main menu takes so long I thought my console hard locked. Tembo probably has the longest initial load time on Xbox One to date.
There are some stages that try and spruce up the fun factor by adding extra elements, like pushing a huge bowling ball to crush enemies and crates, but are still subject to extreme linearity. Combat also suffers as mini-bosses usually deploy cheap tactics and putting out fires with the truck water spray is inconsistent at best. Even the common enemy, which is the player is tasked with killing a couple hundred in each stage, is either too easy – just walk right over them – or is too tedious as some will throw fireballs or charge with a sword at the last second. Instead of being engaging, combat is a dreaded chore.
This “badass” elephant deserves credit for being unique on the surface. Did anyone ever think of playing as a nimble bandana-wearing elephant that is Earth’s only hope against an invading alien race (which are basically just humans, dressed in purple, donning guns)? No, absolutely not, so kudos to Game Freak for going down a new albeit absurd path and to Sega for having the balls to back them up. Unfortunately, gameplay-wise, there are more fulfilling platformers on the market that are more entertaining, not mindless collectathons, and constantly introduce new gameplay twists through level design, puzzle solving, and creativity.
Ask For It: Drill Dozer on Virtual Console
Better Than: the “badass” ninjas of Rush’N Attack Ex-Patriot
Wait For It: Super Mario Maker
By: Zachary Gasiorowski, Editor in Chief myGamer.com