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Tembo the Badass Elephant

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Game Freak
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Platformer (2D)

Graphics & Sound:

That name, though. Really. How do you introduce a game with the title Tembo the Badass Elephant? I've thought long and hard on this, and the answer to that question is, well, you've just read it. You kind of don't. So the name grabs attention, sure. There's nothing wrong with that; what matters is what's represented by that name. And I'm happy to say that developer Game Freak (they of the Pokémon empire) mostly delivers on that promise with an incredibly charming and decidedly old-school platforming experience.

Clean and cartoony is the style of Tembo, and the game wears that aesthetic proudly. It looks like something you might see on a Saturday morning cartoon or in a particularly well-drawn comic book. The colors really pop, and there's a lot of variety in what's displayed, from enemies to friendlies. Tembo himself is kind of adorable; I dare you not to crack a smile each time you see the game over screen, which has the beaten-down pachyderm gulp down a jar of peanut butter before snapping back with an expression that is equal parts cute and vengeful. Wait, what?

Tembo the Badass Elephant is largely one of those games in which you won't really notice the sound design. It's functional, if not decent, but save for Tembo's ferocious trumpeting, you'll be hard pressed to remember any of it. I've been playing the game for several days in a row, yet I can barely remember any of the tracks. Sound effects, maybe, but not much else. So it's neither a mark for or against the game.


When the Phantom, a shadowy military force, invades and subjugates the metropolis of Shell City, there's really only one viable course of action. Mobilizing the troops is a no-brainer, but the real answer is the deployment of the most potent asset available: a bandana-clad elephant who has a real knack for the whole shock and awe thing.

Tembo the Badass Elephant is a very simple game, in both concept and mechanics. In fact, it doesn't get much more simple than this. Go back to the roots of modern video gaming. Get to the end of the level. At its core, that's literally all there is to Tembo. It's not a Metroidvania game with a giant map loaded with secrets, nor is it a role-playing game that has you upgrading and customizing your own war elephant. Left to right. Rinse and repeat. Of course, what you do during the left-to-right matters, too.

There are secondary objectives to simply getting to the end of each stage and smashing the giant Phantom statue. This is, first and foremost, a rescue mission. So there are people to save scattered across each level. Smashing into one of several special containers frees each one from captivity and gives them an opportunity to ride on Tembo's back until the end of the stage -- which is a great sight gag.

Secondly, you'll want to dispose of as much of the Phantom's ground forces as you can; like survivors, there is a finite number of enemies in each stage, and regardless of whether you're a completionist or not, you'll have to scour Shell City far and wide (at least as far and as wide as the level design allows) for anything bearing a purple uniform or standard. You need those points to unlock later levels.


Tembo the Badass Elephant is a rather short game for a platformer, so when the difficulty starts to spike, the impression is that the game as a whole is unbalanced. As far as some parts go, I'd be inclined to agree: the boss fights that mark the home stretch are particularly horrendous and just plain cheap. But when you look at the game as a whole, it's certainly no Battletoads. Tembo is beatable. Easy? Not in the long run, no -- but beatable.

I do have an axe to grind regarding the life system; while I love watching Tembo eat peanut butter and spring back to his normal badass self, this is 2015. We're long past the days when we needed extra lives. It's an antiquity, and not a welcome one.

Game Mechanics:

Elephants are among animals who are commonly overlooked in terms of their capacity for death and destruction. Why that is remains a mystery to me: they're large and majestic, sure, but they're also killing machines. Maybe Tembo the Badass Elephant will help raise elephant danger awareness. I can tell you this, at least: it's almost always a joy to control Tembo. He carries around a lot of weight and bulk, to be sure, but he's fast and ferocious.

Tembo the Badass Elephant's gameplay features a basic spread of locomotion and combat mechanics, but the game feeds in different applications of those mechanics as you progress.

Charging is classic angry elephant behavior, and you'll get to do quite a lot of that. It's your standard attack, as well as the most efficient way to travel. Almost anything Tembo collides with automatically loses, which makes for a cathartic experience as you mow down baddies and the environment itself. Once you pick up some steam, you start to feel a bit like Juggernaut from X-Men. And while I'd assume that jumping elephants are something of a rarity, I will hazard my best educated guess and claim that there probably aren't any elephants who can hover in the air like Yoshi. Tembo can, though! Of course, there's a debt to be paid; all that weight must return to the earth at some point, and you can throw a bit of oomph behind it with either a ground pound or an angular dive bomb attack.

What kind of elephant game would this be if you couldn't make use of the trunk? That's a question we thankfully don't have to answer; Tembo is capable of storing water for later use. If you come across a fiery hazard, just spray it down and keep moving.

Game Freak has found success outside of Pokémon, and games like these make you wish they were let off the leash more often. Tembo the Badass Elephant's gameplay never matches its charm, but fans of old-school platformers will find a lot to like here.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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