Tembo the Badass Elephant looks like he should have his own kids TV show. The name alone is an absolute winner in our books, and the gorgeous comic book visuals are a perfect fit for Saturday morning antics. Quite why the world has to rely on the elephant equivalent of Rambo to save the day rather than, well, Rambo, is anyone’s guess, but when Tembo the Badass Elephant starts stampeding across the countryside with his tusks of justice, you’ll be too busy smashing everything in sight to really care.
It’s certainly not quite what we were expecting to see next from Pokemon developer Game Freak, but after playing the first eight levels of the game we can definitely say that Tembo’s love of destruction is as infectious as his titular badassery. Despite having been drafted in to protect the planet, your main objective is to wreak as much havoc as possible, as you can only proceed to end of stage boss battles once you’ve trampled over a certain number of Phantom goons.
^ Better move out of his way – this elephant never forgets a grudge
Fortunately, with its recent foray into the rhythm action genre with 3DS title HarmoKnight, Game Freak has the art of creating satisfying thwacks and smacks down to a tee, and the escalating combo counter only serves to heighten that delightful science of aural gratification. The more stuff you destroy, the higher the number of peanuts you earn as well, which are crucial for making pots of life-regenerating peanut butter (of course).
Look past the game’s wanton love of carnage, however, and Tembo quickly starts to resemble another red-tied jungle dweller from the side-scrolling forests of Nintendo. With a moveset that includes a floating jump, a devastating ground pound and a thundering stampede, anyone who’s ever played a Donkey Kong Country game will feel right at home here. Even the peanut noise sounds eerily familiar to DK’s banana pick-ups, but luckily Tembo’s delightful range of expressions and trunk load of character make him a far more memorable protagonist than any of DK’s largely forgettable Kong relatives.
^ Hammer out a trunk uppercut to get rid of pesky helicopters
Tembo’s also a more versatile hero as well, as he can reshape his trunk into a deadly hammer-shaped uppercut, slide kick along the ground to reach hidden passageways and dive bomb unsuspecting Phantom soldiers with a deadly diagonal cannonball attack. Naturally, he can also use his trunk to douse flaming crates and cool off red hot tanks, provided he has enough water reserves, of course.
However, you’ll occasionally need to resist the urge to plough headlong into the next obstacle, as there are plenty of secrets to be found beyond the game’s crumbling stage furniture, including massive peanut caches and ten trapped citizens, each of which contributes another ten goons to your overall Phantom hit count. Finding civilians is particularly delightful, as they not only let out a comically high-pitched whoop when you first discover them, but they also stay with you throughout the level, riding around on Tembo’s back with arms flailing in the air like they’re on a rollercoaster ride every time you break into a sprint.
^ What’s better than watching an elephant stampede into a row of minions? Watching a giant bowling ball do it for you
It all adds up to make Tembo an incredibly striking and entertaining platformer, but we wish Game Freak had the same eye for level design as DK developer Retro Studios. From what we’ve seen so far, each stage has a wonderful sense of pace, height and rhythm, but you can easily miss entire sections (and therefore crucial Phantom soldiers) due to poor sign posting. For instance, we’ve generally come to accept over the years that cannons often signify a one-way ticket to the next section of the level. Tembo follows this unspoken rule as well, but it also employs cannons for small asides that eventually loop back round into the main pathway, which can be confusing when you’re at a junction and don’t know which direction will take you past the point of no return.
There’s also the nagging suspicion that Game Freak has timed every enemy attack to perfectly coincide with each and every move we make, as projectiles and gunfire often came out of nowhere, leaving very little room to manoeuvre if we wanted to save our ever-dwindling health bar. When the entire game is clearly intended to be played at speed, it leaves you feeling surprisingly clumsy as head towards the finishing line. Likewise, the sudden difficulty spike around the second boss battle exposes Tembo for the lumbering mammal he is, as even Donkey Kong feels more nimble than our rotund pachyderm.
^ Take too many hits and you’ll have to dig into your supply of peanut butter jars to go back to the last checkpoint
At £10, Tembo won’t break the bank, but it also won’t leave you feeling particularly satisfied either. As much as we love the game’s presentation, the underlying platformer makes it clear that this is Game Freak’s first foray into the genre, and its level design fails to make the same impact as its gorgeous art style. The fussy controls aren’t particularly child-friendly either and its small margin for error will frustrate more often than delight. Elephants may never forget, but Tembo, we fear, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.