Throughout the ’80s, super-soldier John Rambo was a muscular staple of popular culture. His intense visage was plastered just about everywhere: lunchboxes, action figures, cartoon shows, and (of course) video games. Now there’s a cool, 2D-platform game for the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 that borrows heavily from the Rambo mythos. The game is titled Tembo the Badass Elephant. Yes, you read that right. It’s not quite what you would expect from Game Freak, the developers behind Pokémon, but after spending some extensive time with the game I can certainly say that Tembo’s love of destruction is as pronounced as Rambo’s. Tembo’s mayhem, however, is fun and cheeky, while Rambo’s certainly was not.
Despite having been enlisted to protect the world, Tembo’s main objective is to destroy as much stuff (buildings, tanks, helicopters, etc.) as possible using a variety of slick moves to navigate structures and platforms. You can only progress to the level-ending boss battles once you’ve trampled over a certain number of enemy soldiers.
If you look past the game’s cartoony carnage, however, you’ll find that Tembo resembles characters from the 16-bit, side-scrolling worlds of Sega and Nintendo. With a list of moves that includes a spinning ball attack, a destructive ground pound, a floating jump, and a rumbling stampede, anyone who’s ever played a Sonic the Hedgehog or Donkey Kong Country game will have a palpable sense of déjà vu. Even when Tembo picks up peanuts (the tchotchke of choice here…go figure) the sound he makes is very similar to DKC’s banana pick-up sound. Luckily, Tembo’s charming array of expressions and feisty characteristics make him a far more memorable protagonist than Donkey Kong’s lame relatives or Sonic’s woeful menagerie.
The game isn’t perfect—it has a few hiccups in its overall design. For instance, the aforementioned “enemy tally” needed to progress to the boss can be very frustrating, and there are places where it isn’t clear what to do or where to go next. Younger kids may be handing the controller over to mom or dad to help them along.
But when all’s said and done, Tembo the Badass Elephant is a very well-made plafortmer that adults and kids will get a kick out of, whether they are playing separately or as partners. Kids will dig Tembo because of its breezy pace, cool moves, and cartoony aesthetic. Parents will dig it because it harkens back to several classic games and films. Even Tembo’s theme music apes Jerry Goldsmith’s classic Rambo theme in places. Every time I heard it, it never failed to make me smile.