Tembo The Badass Elephant PC Review

A couple of months ago I was given the chance to test drive rampaging through various streets and jungles as Tembo, a Rambo fanatic elephant who loves to cause destruction. My initial impressions were positive, as the first two worlds showcase potential in coming up with clever level design infused with all the acrobatic abilities that an elephant would never have. Now that the final release is available to purchase on PC, PS4 or Xbox One, it’s time for me to return to Tembo The Badass Elephant and see if Game Freak, the team known for creating Pokémon, has kept the momentum going to trample Tembo onto the plaque of great platform games.

Exposition is kept to a minimum, as the comic book aesthetics used to portray the story through short scenes give us all we need to know about the game’s setting. Shell City is under attack from an enemy leader that goes by the name of Phantom. The situation is getting desperate for the once peaceful city, so General Krenman gives his old friend, Tembo, a call for support (anyone getting Rambo/Trautman vibes?) And so Tembo grabs his gear, paints his face and sets off to help his friend. This is one game where story is used to the bare minimum, simply pencilled as a device to give the player a goal – get to the end of each stage, while staying alive and finding as many secrets stashed in conspicuous places, and of course, there’s a boss at the end of each world to put the hurt on this hardened elephant. It’s a throwback to the old days of 90s platform games, especially one title that was huge back then by Sega, Sonic the Hedgehog, but there are more callbacks in Tembo The Badass Elephant to the blue spiky hedgehog than its bare bones plot.

Gameplay is clearly inspired by the 16bit classics, as the game is full of mechanics taken from the best of that era, be it something in Tembo’s arsenal of moves or the game’s level design. Tembo can do a Yoshi flutter to extend his air time, dash to smash through objects and obstructions, turn his trunk into a hammer and perform an uppercut to break through materials above him, butt stomp to perform similar destruction, perform a dive bomb that turns Tembo into a rolling wrecking ball that can bounce off the ground to keep momentum, slide tackle to dash under barriers or avoid tank fire, and finally use his trunk to spray water on dangerous flames. Tembo’s attacks are used to tackle various enemies, be it cannon fodder soldiers, tanks, helicopters and even mechanical armoured machines that require timing slides to get under and hit their weak point from behind. Moves get a lot of mileage, with these mechanics bringing depth to the game. Tembo doesn’t shy away from getting the player to combine moves, so prepare to perform actions like barrel rolling while squirting water to put out flames in the air.

Most of Tembo’s abilities are combinations of the left stick and a button, but because there are many combinations to perform different moves it can cause issues in making sure the right move activates. For example, I would occasionally perform the rolling move by mistake, causing me to fall to my death or lose health. This mishap with the ball attack mostly happens when performing the charge jump, where hitting the button at the wrong time during the air will cause the ball command to come out. You need to be careful how you move the stick and press buttons, but once you get the hang of it, you are off butt stomping through the roof of a tall building, smashing through windows or bulldozing mountains of cars that you can’t help but feel like a badass – like a heavy weight that cannot be stopped by anything on screen.

The developers have come up with inventive ways to make use of the elephant’s skills. Each of the 17 stages never feel lacking in creativity, because they either introduce new mechanics or blend existing ones together to come up with stimulating ways to traverse the dangers ahead. There are spinning devices that require stopping to launch Tembo at that angle, Donkey Kong Country-esque cannons that fire you into lines of peanuts (think bananas from Donkey Kong Country – they even sound the same when collected), tanks that shoot bombs from the background, which Tembo must dodge, but every second shot a tennis ball pops out that a well placed uppercut sends an Andy Roddick smash back at the tank to cause damage, and even enemies that need flipping over with a butt stomp to expose their weak bellies.

Moving to the second zone introduces seeds that sprout into bouncing platforms when water touches them that adds complex jumping/water mechanics. This also is the same for fists that make bridges when sprayed and gates that require water to spin the wheel to lift them up. The final main zone brings a wonderful feeling of Casino Night Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, as Tembo bounces on pins, dodges electric skulls that burst into sprays of lightning when killed, and Tembo even goes for a little exercise on those troublesome treadmills that can either decrease or improve momentum. Some of these might seem like simple ideas, unoriginal even, but blended together with the forward momentum that Tembo the Badass Elephant moves at means the action is always stimulating and fast, rewarding players with combos if they manage to keep alert and not get hit.

Momentum is certainly a key feature of the game, and you will have no problems blasting through the game’s content. What some people might have issues with is that the overarching design on the world map that forces a player to meet a criteria to pass a locked section to the final levels of a world. Out of the 17 stages, I only had to replay two of them to meet the required purple counter that is made up of the deaths of the Phantom army in each stage, but also the innocent civilians that need saving, similar in style to Metal Slug. This feels off after the the initial impression you are led with Tembo’s fast paced action platforming, as you need to calm down and look for those kills or face having to replay stages. If you are a person who hunts collectibles, then this won’t be an issue, but if you want to blue streak through a level like the Sonic games, then you will be disappointed with this inclusion.

I was also a little surprised that there was only one more world and a few final stages that populated Tembo the Badass Elephant in the final release over the preview I played earlier in the year. One of my concerns with the preview was I wasn’t sure if the game could keep its momentum all the way to the end. That concern has evaporated, as Tembo is filled with brilliant level design that never falters, although, bosses aren’t all that memorable. The first one is a walk in the park – I thought I had caused a glitch, since it was that easy – and the others are stylish, but are defeated in a straight-forward manner. I do wish the game was longer – it is about the same size as the first Sonic the Hedgehog – because what is included here is extremely fun to the point I wish Game Freak carried on with their exciting creativeness with more levels and better bosses.

When it comes to the game’s performance, you can run this on any recent machine that features some sort of graphics card. The game uses Unity Engine, and never does anything demanding from a graphics point. That said, the game does look fantastic, thanks to the comic book art style and bright colours. For anyone running a high resolution monitor than goes above 1920×1080, you will sadly not be able to go above 1080p, although, because of its fusion of comic art, it still remains looking great when it isn’t running on a native resolution screen. Tembo the Badass Elephant had a rocky PC launch, as the game would not boot initially, so was taken down for a day to be fixed with a newer version. Since then, the game has worked fine, but people with SLI set ups will need to disable one of their cards, since SLI causes physics problems, and while it might be funny seeing Tembo jump six times as high, it’s no fun when he cannot come out of his rolling attack or is stuck in the world’s ground.

Tembo the Badass Elephant is a new IP that I welcome to the platform genre, an area that Sega once knew well. While this isn’t a classic like Donkey Kong Country Returns or Rayman Legends, there is a lot to like with your short time with Tembo The Badass Elephant, and it goes to show that Game Freak are more than just “that Pokémon company.” Infused with excellent level design blended with all the good ideas from the 16bit greats of Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi’s Island and Sonic the Hedgehog, Tembo the Badass Elephant is spoilt by the bizarre decision to force collectable progression in a game that feels based on travelling fast and hard, along with its reliance on one-stick-commands-all control scheme. Even so, anyone looking to spend an entertaining afternoon with a good platform game should dig their tusks into a jar of Tembo the Badass Elephant.

7 out of 10