I'm no expert on game design, but I've played enough over the years to know that Tembo The Badass Elephant commits a pretty big crime - one that does its best to eek away any enjoyment the it offers. A 2D platformer starring a war elephant ripped straight out of a non-existent Rambo cartoon for kids, Tembo had the ingredients to be as enjoyably silly as its title, but a forced grind brings about a level of sadness usually reserved for Dumbo.
Initially, SEGA and Game Freak's collaboration appeals. Lovely cartoon-like visuals see the eponymous elephant (called into help during a war) boosting across levels, bouncing into tanks and crates, uppercutting enemies and generally causing a lot of damage. With a nippy pace (when boosting) and plenty of crates being smashed the whole thing feels like a neat mix of Sonic the Hedgehog and the sidescrolling parts of Crash Bandicoot.
Tembo's goals, however, are not just limited to reaching the end of each stage. Players also have to take out as many foes as possible,plus their supporting vehicles and structures. He also collects peanuts to top up his lives, and can refill his water supply and use it to douse fires. Add in plenty of neat platforming, jump pads, Donkey Kong Country-style cannons, massive bowling balls and innocent civilians to rescue, and Tembo is as lovely as a game about a war elephant has any right to be. But then you hit a brick wall.
Resembling a system usually found in mobile titles, your progress in Tembo is halted by locked stages that require a certain amount of points to unlock - a total made from enemies bashed and people saved. To do this you have to trawl through previously completed levels, edging closer and closer to the target. It feels like a grind and at odds with the fun, action-packed gameplay on offer when you're not forced to play like a scavenger.
I had most fun storming through the levels, making the most of Tembo's speed when boosting, but this style of play doesn't go hand in hand with collecting the most points. Being forced to replay levels and changing your style in order to milk enough points out of each level is a great way to add an extra few hours to the game's length, but it sure does put a downer on the experience. I'm all for unlocking extra content as a reward for the most dedicated players, but the core levels shouldn't be gated like this.
And that's Tembo. A game in which you're made to crawl over the line instead of gloriously smash through it. It's a real shame as when you're not doing that it's a lot of fun, and something I'd have easily recommended. It's still worth a go, but be prepared for the grind.
Version Tested: PS4