This article gives our impressions on the Xbox One version of the game.
The first thing you may notice upon starting up Tembo the Badass Elephant are the utterly lush visuals in a style reminiscent of the now common bold colourful art direction found in Gravity Falls and Adventure Time. The look of the game is what drives the initial enjoyment as the army call in pachyderm reinforcements after a swarm of nasty bad guys turn up to take control of everything. It’s a humorous opening that sets the tone of everything left to come. It also makes it very clear that this is a Game Freak developed SEGA title. These eye-popping visuals are expected from the house of the blue hedgehog, anything less would be a false start.
After the initial training session that teaches the player how control a lumbering elephant, you’re let loose on the world and proceed stage by stage, collecting a myriad of items. This is when you notice the second big thing. Tembo may be a “Badass Elephant”, but he is also clunky and confused. It seems that Game Freak and Tembo can’t decide between mimicking Sonic with his fast paced movement or being a more methodical platformer with small puzzle elements. A simple example of this is Tembo’s dash button. When the player wants some speed, they can press a button for Tembo to haul his heft and smash everything in his path. However, should an enemy stand in front of him with a knife he will be stopped in his tracks and the damage is unavoidable. Also, when dashing, Tembo becomes cumbersome at jumping platform to platform.
Leave the dash button alone and some jumps feel tediously laborious as Tembo flutters his legs like Yoshi – an attempt on humour that has us gnashing our teeth when Tembo falls short. It isn’t a reactive platform game, the enemies can often land damage without fault from the player and Tembo’s bounce move – which turns him into a cannonball – is unwieldy 50% of the time. During the majority of the levels, this can be shrugged off as an unfortunate design flaw, but one that is alleviated by the style. When the bosses arrive at the end of the worlds, though, the player can lose confidence in our protagonist. The hulking boss characters which spit out repeating attacks of varying speed can often catch Tembo’s large hitbox purely because he is so sluggish.
Then there’s the water spraying aspect. Being an elephant, Tembo can suck up water into his trunk to spray about, mostly to put out fires. We thought instinctively that the right analogue stick would control the spray so that we can keep moving, but everything is tied to the left stick. This means that stopping and starting to hose down enemies or obstacles breaks the momentum that is so hard to gain in the first place.
The game has a lot of charm despite these issues. Yes, the controls aren’t great, but the worlds themselves are well designed and leave a lot for the player to explore. The stereotypical world styles are included, the city stages and the forest stages, there’s no innovation here, but there doesn’t need to be. What Tembo gets right is the level design. There are plenty of hidden nooks to explore that will usually contain peanuts which, when collected, turn into peanut butter – the equivalent of a life based system. Or, there may be a civilian waiting to be rescued – a total of ten are spread out through each level.
This is definitely aimed at those who aspire to find everything. When enemies are killed you score points for each unit and there’s a total unit count for each level. Kill everything and the total is filled allowing you to enter later worlds and levels, fall short and you’ll be grinding for those hidden bad guys so that the story can progress. There is also a timer for each level which causes us to think that the developer has speed runs in mind – something which will only be revealed over time and by the community.
When looking at the developer and publisher history, you could expect something very special here. Sadly this isn’t the case. It’s not special on either end of the quality scale, it’s not awful, it’s not brilliant, it is plain, it is vanilla. It’s more Tembo the Average Elephant than anything else.
The Good Stuff
- Sumptuous visuals
- Genuine character and charm
- Great level design
The Bad Stuff
- Clunky controls
- Some grinding to open later levels
- Lack of innovation
(after Patch 1.02)
We had mixed feelings about this one. The experience had both good and bad points. Consider investing your money and playtime wisely