Tembo The Badass Elephant Review

Tembo has modern Sonic's spirit - and level design. The pairing doesn't work here either.

Tembo wears a headband. It's not clear how he tied it without opposable thumbs and only one trunk. He also has a tree phone – that's how the friendly Shell Army contacts Tembo when invaders from space drop to Earth. How the phone wired in Tembo's rain forest abode is also an unknown. And where did he find the grenade strapped to his hide? It's beginning to seem as if this video game with a militaristic elephant who fights aliens called the Phantom Invaders is actually fiction.

That's okay. Tembo is as illogical as '60s era cartoon shows. It has their spirit too. George of the Jungle, Danger Mouse, Dudley Do Right; Tembo wants in their club. He'd fit there – mostly. Friendly violence, a sense of mischief, those boldly drawn outlines. But he is still a video game creation. Odd, weird, and kooky all fit as descriptors. Only in a video game would something this absurd be accompanied by elaborate orchestration where some themes appear to be culled from Rambo.

Sega's Lineage

It is as if Tembo's existence is overruled by Kanye West.

Tembo is the best Sonic the Hedgehog game in years, despite having nothing to do with Sonic other than sharing a publisher in Sega. Take the good with the bad then. Tembo is designed to run fast, break stuff, and eat peanuts (there's a pinball stage too), but like Sonic, Tembo is consistently interrupted by entrapping level design. It is as if Tembo's existence is overruled by Kanye West.

“Yo elephant, I know you want to run fast, break stuff, and eat peanuts, but here's a level designed so you can't. It's the best of all time.”

Kanye West jokes are old, but Sonic is too. So there.

The spirit of this elephant is caught somewhere inside of an endless runner. Those moments where Tembo is allowed freedom - smashing through Shell City (although saving towns via destruction seems to counteract the elephantine heroism) and bopping purple-clad Phantom Invaders are bliss. Tembo needs Rayman Origins' exquisite, full sprint music-themed stages. They'd be a match.

Instead, it's stop-and-go, dealing with control/attack functions designed for speed in scrunched arenas not designed for speed. Squeeze by those, move forward, and maybe Tembo opens up.

Variety to a fault

It's for variety, superficially though. “Audiences don't want the same, they want different,” but that's wrong. Tell that to kids who have pucker lips from kissing their iPad, thanking it for letting them play more of the same Minecraft. Tell adults they want different or variety. They don't. It's why app stores are overly slathered in tap-tap-tap strategy “war” games designed to pilfer real money in exchange for fake money. They drown out the “different” no one wants. Sequels exist en masse because different is scary, or worse, not profitable. It's why Tembo tries to be Sonic without being brave enough to tweak things through learned behavior.

There's no sense of power; it's a sense of being overwhelmed.

Doing the same thing repetitively under the right conditions is comforting. Variety is praised, but it's a killer when done wrong. Therein is Tembo. Mechanics have a purpose. Tembo's are constructed for an elephant charging forward with such speed that a sonic boom surrounds his tusk. Instead it's mostly played in an obnoxiously safe pitter-patter – adorably, but still - tip-toeing between missiles and bazookas and bombs and tanks. There's no sense of power; it's a sense of being overwhelmed. Dodge this, leap over that. What happened to smash this, bash that? Tembo is an elephant on an offensive warpath. A badass? So rarely is he allowed to feel like one. 

Tembo's cute. His world is wonderful. Everything in it is not. Most of it isn't, actually. Say, a stalling tactic which unlocks levels based on the number of defeated aliens. Other than forcibly creating a need to replay levels to gain arbitrary Phantom Invader kills, such pace-stopping functionality does nothing positive. Sonic Boom 3DS did something similar. That comparison is the warning shot which indavertantly becomes an accidental direct hit.

Our Rating
Tembo has modern Sonic's spirit - and level design. The pairing doesn't work here either.
Reviewed On: Playstation 4

Featured Contributor

Freelance critic seen on Playboy, GameSkinny, and others. Passionate vintage game collector. Fervent physical media supporter and consumerism devotee.

Published Jul. 26th 2015
  • The Soapbox Lord
    Featured Contributor
    This review seems really bitter...
  • Elijah Beahm
    Featured Columnist
    You know, I'm not even entirely sure what your angle was with the review. First you open with dead pan that sounds way too serious. Then you basically have no payoff punchline for that deadpan. It just reads wrong and brings the review to a lurching halt before it's even started.

    Then, you make a Kanye West reference (really though, that was the "hey bro" meme you were thinking of) out of nowhere to try and explain that the game makes bad level design decisions... when we're just finally starting to talk seriously about the game and get rolling again. Immediately side-tracked again.

    Shortly after that, you start condescending your very audience over why Tempo is the way it is. Generally, it's best not to blame your audience for something. It kind of turns them off. As does the incredibly pessimistic tone used, which nearly made my stop reading the review. It's just unpleasant imagery with a bitter, cynical rant that adds little to the review.

    The review is also way too short. Now, if the game's mechanics and ideas don't have that much depth, then I can understand the briefness. However, in my first reading, the actual review part of this review felt like background to the jokes and references. There's so much verbal imagery being tossed around that the reader gets distracted from the very thing they came for.

    For example: You mention a stalling mechanic in two sentences, but devote an entire paragraph to that condescending bit. The ratios are all off in this thing, and that sucks because if they were tuned right, I doubt I'd be writing this comment. The actual review parts are great! They're just incredibly brief. The main point you have is a very valid one (one I've heard echoed by other reviewers), but it's like wringing out water from a cloth to get to your point.
  • The Soapbox Lord
    Featured Contributor
    Insulting your audience is a bad idea? Since when? Explains a lot...

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