We haven’t really seen much in the way of Mascot based platformers in the past few years. Sure we’ve had a steady dose of Mario and Sonic over the years with varying degrees of quality, but you just don’t see a lot of new Mascot games coming out. Sega and Game Freak are hoping to inject some life into this stagnant genre with Tembo The Badass Elephant. I think they may be on to something.
What Is It?
In Tembo The Badass Elephant you play as the eponymous pachyderm in his mission to rid the world of the evil Phantom Army. These skull-masked jerky-jerky have taken over the planet, and you have to cut your vacation short to deal with them and save the world. Needless to say, anyone forced to cut their vacation short to go back to work would be annoyed, so you can imagine how peeved a seven-and-a-half ton badass elephant would be at getting called back from leave.
Why Should I Care?
Sega and Game Freak have created an instantly likeable character in Tembo. He’s big, he’s confident, and that confidence gives you the feeling that you’ll be able to deal with any situation that may arise. Tembo never says a word, apart from the occasional trumpeting, but he’s the sort of character who’s actions speak much louder than words.
Those actions involve running, jumping, sprinting, sliding, bouncing, and putting out fires with Tembo’s trunk. Along with dealing with the Phantom army, you’ll collect peanuts that act very much like coins in games past. Collect 100 of them for an extra life. You’ll also find apples that will replenish your health. These are few and far between, so you’ll have to make them count. And finally, the only optional goal in Tembo is rescuing 10 civilians that are scattered through each level. The levels are setup so you can play them in multiple ways. You can blow through them like, well, like a raging elephant, but that will only get you so far. To get the scores you’ll need to progress you’ll need to play a bit more patiently and strategically.
This is where Tembo The Badass Elephant’s biggest flaw shows itself. The game is split up into three zones, each with four stages and a boss battle at the end. The first three stages of a zone you can go through with no trouble. All you have to do is get to the end. The fourth stage in the zone will require you to meet a score threshold in order to gain entry to it. Each level has a maximum number of Phantom troops to destroy. Saving civilians or getting through a level in a timely fashion doesn’t effect this score. It’s strictly a “Did you kill everything?” number. The trouble is that Game Freak have set that score threshold to be far too high. I can understand giving players the option to go back and explore levels to gain completionist achievements, but a threshold set this high makes score attack a required part of the game’s progression. Let’s take the first zone for instance. The three levels added up have a total possible score of 744. What do you think a reasonable score to access level four would be? 300? 400? 450 maybe? Nope, to access level four you need to score 600 of that possible 744. That means you the absolute minimum threshold to progress is an average of 80% completion across the first three levels.
It’s really a shame that Game Freak put in such an arbitrary mechanic. Those who want to go for score ought to have the option to do so, nothing in Tembo prevents those folks from doing that. For the people that just want to get through the game, this mechanic is a roadblock that will most likely just turn players off. It did for me. I tried for hours to get the required scores to progress and though I made it close, I didn’t quite reach the score needed.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Apart from that one major flaw, Tembo The Badass Elephant would be a very enjoyable game. Tembo himself is a likable character, and he’s surprisingly agile for a 7.5 ton elephant. Mind you, he’s not as nimble as a Mario or a Sonic, but the game’s levels take Tembo’s size into account. There are sections where you can run flat out, sections where you’ll do Donkey Kong Country style cannon flights, and sections where you’ll need to do some precise platforming. I never felt like I couldn’t get Tembo to do what I wanted him to. I find it incredibly fun to blast through Phantom soldiers, or rocket up a building breaking hundreds of panes of glass along the way. You can take out enemies en masse by wrecking the structures they happen to be standing on, which is oh so satisfying. Then you reach the end of the level and know you didn’t score high enough and have to do it all over again.
So what we’re left with is a solid playing game that makes the mistake of confusing repetition for challenge. Tembo The Badass Elephant could have been great, and perhaps if Game Freak adjust those level thresholds it might still be, but as of right now, it’s a game that will only appeal to the completionists, since they’re the only folks who will consider an 80% average to be easy. Download the demo and give it a try. Tembo is worth playing, you just have to know what you’re in for.