Side-scrollers are dime a dozen in this current digital age. The old-school genre may have fallen out of favour following the PSone's introduction of new-fangled polygons, but the vibrant indie development scene has ensured that 2D platformers are fashionable again – even if they tend to rival Early Access survival games in ubiquity these days. On first appearances, Tembo the Badass Elephant, the first PlayStation 4 title from Pokémon developer Game Freak, looks like yet another outing to add to that ever-extending list – but just how much junk does it have in its trunk?
Put upon publisher SEGA is distributing this downloadable escapade, and it seems like a match made in safari heaven. While the anthropomorphised animal protagonist will draw instant comparisons to mascot Sonic the Hedgehog, the game's momentum-based gameplay draws further similarities to the Blue Blur. Indeed, despite the trundling weight of Tembo, this is a lightning fast game – and, much like the aforementioned favourite, it's at its absolute best when you're given the freedom to move at speed without being impeded.
The title's relatively simple to describe: you play as the titular tusker having been recruited by a bloke with a bushy beard to save the world from evil forces. The story's delivered through comic book panel-like cut-scenes, and while we struggled to grasp the specifics, we're confident that there's not an enormous amount of narrative depth to relay here; there are bad guys – and you need to stop them. Stop us if you've heard this one before.
It's the way that you put a big scaly paw print in your opponent's plans that represents the bulk of this release's fun, though, as Tembo is a very capable hero. Pushing the square button enables you to sprint, while also acting as a bunt attack of sorts; you can smash through cars, cracked walls, windows, and foes all while trotting at top speed. Meanwhile, combining your primary attack with a leap will encourage the character to curl up and bounce, giving you ample opportunity to thump the tanks and rocket launcher-wielding goons that will be getting in your way.
The action's basic enough on its own, but it feels very satisfying. As you ground pound through skyscrapers and dash through sewers – gobbling up collectible peanuts as you go – it does capture that same sensation of early Sonic the Hedgehog, where you feel like you're moving at blistering speeds. It's just a shame that, after a few levels, the game sees fit to introduce water-based puzzles, which essentially see you using your trunk to douse fires before you can safely progress. The variety is perhaps necessary, but the diminished pace is a disappointment.
Your primary objective, in addition to completing the level, is to bust as many bad guys as you can, while also rescuing survivors scattered around the world. These people will ride on your back as you gather them up, but are typically hidden in out-of-reach areas. The game does definitely experiment with its mechanics; you may, for example, have to solve several physics-based puzzles in order to rescue one human, but while these sequences give you something to think about, the game is, again, at its best when it's moving at 100mph.
Not that the engine can always keep up, of course. Despite its speed, it does struggle to maintain a consistent framerate when there's a lot going on at once; we were playing on pre-release code, so hopefully these issues can be cleaned up. One particular level set atop a moving train really chugs in places, which is a shame as it's a great idea. To be fair, the visuals are impressive at times – a marriage of cartoon-like sprites and cel-shaded environments. Onomatopoeia is employed liberally in a comic book fashion to bring extra interest to eye-catching events, which works especially well when there's a lot happening.
But that sums up our first hour or so with Tembo the Badass Elephant: it's striking at speed, but a lot less impressive when the pace is artificially slowed down. With slick controls and some solid presentation, this is a lot more entertaining than it initially appears – we just hope that the remainder of the release maintains the momentum of its earlier levels, because that's when it's at its break-neck best.
Howdah feel about Tembo the Badass Elephant? Are you looking forward to this colourful side-scroller, or do you think that it looks a little irrelephant? Tickle us with your trunk in the comments section below.