Tembo the Badass Elephant: The game in which junk meets trunk - Games Weekly

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Tembo the Badass Elephant: The game in which junk meets trunk

It’s easy to imitate retro games. Reduce your visuals to a series of blocks, get some bloke with a scientific calculator instead of real instruments to do the music, and make the whole game all about jumping. Bosh. You’re the latest indie millionaire.

It’s much harder, however, to capture the spirit of gaming’s bygone age. That gloriously carefree time when ‘storyline’ meant ‘that bit at the front of the instruction manual’ and associating food product brands with games was not only allowed, it was actively encouraged (pour one out for my man, Cool Spot). Tembo steps up to this plate, a bright, brash take on the platformers of old unafraid to take its own decisions, but always keeping one fat hoof in the familiar.


Primarily, that’s by outright copying its greatest influence. Not only does Tembo’s XXXL Rambo costume call to mind another inappropriately dressed jungle animal (and by ‘inappropriate’, we mean ‘in any way wearing human clothes’), but his moveset taps into the muscle memory of anyone that has invested a little time in Donkey Kong Country.
The art style’s presented like a beautifully extruded comic book
Rolling attacks and barrel blasts feel distinctly ape-like, while Tembo’s ability to smash down almost anything in his way be that walls, houses or your Phantom Army enemy’s tanks is a nod to the Rambi the rhinoceros sections from Rare’s classic series. It’s a loving rip-off, almost feeling like a way of giving some Nintendo flavour to a somewhat charm-starved new generation (a sense heightened by the fact that this is the side-project for the developer that has spent the last 20 years making endless Pokémon games).

But that’s not to say it doesn’t offer its own ideas. For a start, there’s the art style, presented like a beautifully extruded comic book, 2D drawings revealing themselves as 3D objects when you run past or just shattering into a hundred physics-enabled pieces. Physics itself is the other key feature Tembo’s puzzling so far comes in two varieties. One has you extinguishing fires or growing plant-based platforms by firing the limited supply of water stored in your trunk. The other is more interesting, as you knock down stacks of wrecked cars into obstacles, or nudge gigantic bowling balls to trigger domino-like chain reactions.

This is what we want to see more of. Our time with the game gave us any number of flashbacks to playing nonsensical games and wearing light-up shoes, but the few moments where it yanked out those old ideas and gave them some contemporary oomph were Tembo’s best. That’s the real spirit of retro, after all the time when those old ideas felt like nothing else we’d ever played. We didn’t want
to play old games back then let’s see this one try something new, too.

Flexi-Time
How does a side-project get made in today’s games industry?
Tembo’s the latest in a line of games made as side-projects. Ubisoft’s been the standard bearer for this, but Game Freak’s system is perhaps more interesting. Anyone at the company can propose a game, and if they find two people to support the idea, they get three months to prototype it. If it’s considered a success, they get three more, and then management decides whether it’s worth pursuing as for wider release.

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