Announced for PlayStation 4 back in May, Tamarin is a unique looking title starring a cute little monkey. Ahead of the game's release later this year, we were lucky enough to chat about Tamarin's gameplay, the inspiration behind the title, and more with director Omar Sawi of developer Chameleon Games.
Push Square: To start with, can you give us a brief overview of what Tamarin's all about?
Omar Sawi: Tamarin is a 3D action-adventure where you get to be a tamarin. One of the cutest animals that nobody’s heard about, it’s incredibly fun to control, because it’s very agile, especially the way a tamarin leaps. And there’s a lot of great action.
But he’s lost everything; the forest around him is burnt down. His home and his family are gone. So through his struggle for survival, you adventure through beautiful Nordic forests, mountains, and fjords.
On the way, with the help of electric fireflies and of other friendly animals, you enter underground tunnels where you get to battle army-like insects that intelligently attack you in groups and formations.
Tamarin's blend of 3D platforming and free-aim shooting isn't a gameplay mix that we see all too often these days. Why did you opt for shooting rather than more traditional action-based combat?
We wanted to make a game that was not too narrow, but appealed to different kinds of audiences. For it to be exciting like an action film. The adventuring and exploration aspects are great for contemplation and creating a wonderful atmosphere, which is helped by the great music we have in the game, that David Wise does so well.
But sometimes the most exciting films or games are when the tempo isn’t constant, but changes. And where there is variety.
In the game, the insects build factories and pollute. This is in contrast to the nature that they destroy, represented by the tamarins and other animals. The gameplay, graphics, and music reflects a contrast between nature and the mechanical. This creates a new alternating and interconnected gameplay structure that hasn’t been done before.
When you first started creating concepts for Tamarin, what were your main inspirations?
Nature was number one. If you really look at it, it is just so fascinating and so beautiful. The colours. The phenomena. The seasons. The animals and plants. There’s so much beauty people haven’t seen and the structure of a game makes you experience it in a way you can’t do in reality, for example being another creature with very cool movements or abilities. And we want to mix this in with action and adventure to take the player on a great journey.
Three of the top artists at Rare, who made most of their famous characters like Banjo Kazooie, Diddy Kong and those in Kameo, worked to make the design of the tamarins as good as possible, and their experience crafting iconic and famous characters in the past was of great help.
In terms of gameplay, the 3D action adventure Nintendo and Rare games have been a great inspiration, because they are a balance between open world (the kind that needs a map to not get lost), and linear games. It seems like there’s a lack of this kind of in-between very custom designed 3D action adventure nowadays. Tamarin features playground spaces that you’re able to get familiar with, and which you get to explore fully in 3D and find a lot of secrets in.
Why did you go for incredibly cute monkeys versus evil insects?
There are a lot of cute animals, beautiful plants and species that are very important to our life on Earth. Many of them are just so precious that we shouldn’t afford to lose them or the beautiful places they live in. As humans, we’re often attracted to the cute and childlike, and we wanted to have animals that you gave the agency to protect and care for them, no matter if you are young or old, male or female.
Insects are almost alien-like creatures. There are so many and their numbers seem to go out of control. Sometimes we’re also disgusted or scared by them. They’re representative of the ecological imbalance that creates the conflict in the game. They invade, pollute, burn down forests to the detriment of all the other animals. Because they never have enough. Something to think about.
Tamarin's environments have been described as Nordic. Why did you choose Nordic landscapes as the backdrop for Tamarin?
A couple of people who’ve worked on Tamarin plus myself come from Norway. Due to the very Northern location, there are a lot of beautiful natural phenomena that people from other parts of the world haven’t experienced. That includes the strong, beautiful colours, the extremely long sunsets and shadows in the summer, the freshness and clarity of the air, the distinct seasons, and special species of plants that have adapted to live in those harsh conditions; it may have been windy so the flowers become very cute and petite or the trees may grow sparsely and develop bent tree trunks near the mountaintops.
The environmental structures are also interesting, with a former ice age having formed fjords and high mountains which are plateaued at the top. It’s something not much featured in games, and due to my upbringing there, it was easier to reference that and hopefully create a new gameplay setting.
Can you tell us a little more about the gameplay structure in Tamarin? Are there collectables? Can you upgrade your abilities? Are the environments quite open, or are they more linear?
The gameplay structure is unique in that it alternates between two kinds of gameplay. In the action areas, you get guns and tools and those are the way in which you proceed. The paths are branching, with multiple entries and exits, some which open up once you come back with new abilities. The atmosphere is exciting and upbeat.
But when you let go of the weapons and get to the exploration areas, it becomes animalistic. Those areas are open, full 3D playgrounds that are fun to explore non-linearly. The tamarin can then use his body and a lot more acrobatic moves to find new secrets. He can swim, climb, roll, do all kinds of leaps and jumps. Whether you acquire new tools, or find new objects within the environment, these open up new places allowing you to find new worlds or see familiar places from a new and interesting perspective.
With well known and much loved video game composer David Wise behind Tamarin's music, what do you want to accomplish with the game's soundtrack?
The gameplay structure of the game is inspired by how some music albums are not single genre, or just slow tempo or fast tempo, but has a mixture to make listening to the entire album an adventure and full of variety. David Wise’s soundtracks for the Donkey Kong Country games are some of the most melodically beautiful and atmospheric in the history of video games music. And we wanted to keep the atmosphere while you’re exploring the nature in Tamarin, so David Wise was on board the project as far back as the start in 2013 and all the way to finishing it off in 2019.
But rather than just stick with that, we wanted to maintain the concept of variety and action as part of the package, so in the game you’ll find catchy beats which the ants dance to as well as suspenseful music that sounds like it would fit an action film!
To finish things off, how would you describe Tamarin in just one word?
What do you think of Tamarin? Will you be rallying against the insect menace later this year? Leap into the comments section below.
[Thanks to Omar Sawi and Chameleon Games for taking the time to answer our questions. Special thanks to Adolfo Aguirre for making this interview possible]