Charging on to the scene with his best Rambo gear and bird companion, Tembo the Badass Elephant channels the iconic platforming action of generations past back when vibrant 2D character platformers were as plentiful, almost as much as generic war shooters have been on recent consoles. As one of the main places you’d find some of these classic platformers, such as Sonic, Vectorman and Ristar, it makes sense that Sega would be the one to bring this game out for fans of the genre.
Presented in a sharp comic book style, the game introduces you to Tembo, the army vet elephant being called out of retirement to help the people of shell city battle the mysterious ‘Phantom’ army. Without further delay or unnecessary exposition, you’re sent into battle across 18 stages featuring a variety of different environments to dispatch the Phantom soldiers occupying the area, rescue the civilians trapped within.
Utilising a wide range of skills, Tembo can can charge forward, jump , roll, spray water, uppercut, powerslide to smash enemy soldiers and tackle obstacles in your way.The variety of moves also lends itself to a bit of experimentation with combining them to suit your needs. If you’re spraying water while charging for instance, you can run straight through fiery obstacles while a wall of water protects you from the front.
The level progression is done in a simple, linear fashion, with each level on the map unlocked as you complete the previous one, but sometimes there’s a few parts where you will need to have defeated a set number of enemies in total to be able to get to the next area. Early levels in the game are fairly pedestrian and can generally be completed without too much difficulty, even if you’re charging along at full speed most of the way through. As the difficulty of the stages ramps up, introducing trickier platforming sections and more resilient enemies, you’ll want to take full advantage of the abilities at your disposal to get through.
By the time you get to the last few stages, the challenging aspects of the game and level design are turned up to 11, with dozens of pitfalls, traps, powerful enemies and even a few chase sequences where you need to navigate jumps and obstacles while avoiding a rapidly encroaching wall of doom behind you. I can see these later sections of the game being fun and a welcome challenge for fans of platforming and action games, but newcomers may find it a bit frustrating trying to complete the more difficult parts, especially since you have a set amount oflives before you get a game over and return to the level select screen.
While the general design and feel of Tembo is somewhat reminiscent of Mega Drive and SNES platformers the art and overall look of the game work well in HD on current-gen platforms. The 2D comic styled art and 3D set dressing are done in a way where both styles work together without being too overwhelming. Charging through buildings and having various bits of debris explode adds a great effect to the destruction left in Tembo’s wake.
The frame rate seemed to keep at a steady pace throughout, making the game look and play quite smoothly. The strange sensitivity issue I noticed with the analog stick controls in previous builds of the game still seems to be around, at least on the PS4 version used for this review, so perhaps the D-pad might be a better choice for controlling, especially on some of the more precise jumps since you don’t want to accidentally ground pound into oblivion when you’re aiming to dash diagonally.
At just under 20 levels long, it may not be the longest game but with each stage being thoroughly enjoyable to play through and plenty of hidden areas to find to get all of the civilians and enemies scattered throughout, it should be able to provide some fun for several hours, especially if you’re looking to complete each stage fully and beat your friends’ times on the online leaderboards.
As someone who has fond memories of playing retro platformers, Tembo definitely feels like it could scratch that itch for anyone looking for similar experiences to those games we all played many years ago. It may not be as long of a game as I would have liked, but it's still pretty good for the price. Hopefully this won't be the last collaboration between Sega and Game Freak as I would like to see how they could follow this up in the future.