tembo the badass elephant

Tembo the Badass Elephant Has Retro Games at Its Heart

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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.

tembo the badass elephant

Destroying as much as possible is one of your goals in the game.

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.

ori and the blind forest

[Review] Ori and the Blind Forest

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Platforms: Xbox One, PC
We Played On: Xbox One

There’s a rule among most video game developers: If the game doesn’t pique your interest in the first 10 minutes then you’re not likely to keep playing it. Ori and the Blind Forest doesn’t break this rule. In fact, the first 10 minutes of the game are so fantastic, I can’t imagine anyone would stop playing. Luckily, the rest of the game delivers on the promise of the beginning and makes for a fantastic experience on par with some of the old Legend of Zelda games. And at $19.99, Ori and Blind Forest costs a third of what bigger traditional retail games cost.

ori and the blind forest

Ori starts the game as a leaf that breaks free from the spirit tree and falls to Earth, where he takes the form of spirit animal.

The Story

Ori begins life as a leaf that is blown off the large spirit tree during a massive storm. When he finally settles he takes the form of a small spirit. An ape-like creature named Naru sees him fall to Earth and adopts him as her own child. Naru and Ori are a happy family until a cataclysmic event “blinds” the forest, drying up the trees that produced the fruit the two eat. Without the fruit, Naru weakens. Ori travels out into the forest to find the last pieces of fruit and returns to find that Naru has died. Without her, he’s forced to traverse the forest on his own. Ori is weak and helpless until he meets up with Sein, another spirit who helps him on his journey to restore light to the forest.

The Gameplay

Ori and the Blind Forest is played in 2D, meaning you move the character left and right rather than through 3D space. Once Ori meets up with Sein, he gains the ability to launch beams of energy at enemies. The gameplay then involves dispatching enemies and traversing a variety of environments by jumping and avoiding obstacles.

ori and the blind forest

The gameplay involves traversing a variety of environments, all of which are beautifully drawn.

Throughout the game, Ori will find small spirit trees that give him special abilities. More abilities can be unlocked by collecting orbs that enemies drop when killed. Collecting enough of these orbs results in a skill point. Earning a skill point opens up the ability tree with three paths of options, where players can spend their points however they choose. For example, one skill makes the orbs come to Ori from a greater distance, while another might give him more health. This makes the game feel slightly like a role-playing game, but the majority of the gameplay is still platforming.

ori and the blind forest ability tree

Players can spend skill points in the ability tree to help them in future gameplay.

Though its beautiful art style and cute characters may make it seem like Ori and the Blind Forest is accessible to anyone, the game increases in difficulty pretty quickly. Many of the obstacles Ori comes up against require precise timing and mastery of his skills. I found myself needing to try some gameplay sequences many times before finally getting past them. Another element that may be frustrating to new players is that game does not autosave. That means players must consciously choose to stop and save or else lose a lot of progress.

The ESRB Rating

The ESRB rates Ori and the Blind Forest as E with a content descriptor of Mild Fantasy Violence. Ori uses energy beams to dispatch a variety of fantastical creatures, but the art is stylized and no blood of any type is shown.

ori and the blind forest

The relationship between Naru and Ori is heartwarming.

A Lot of Heart

The connection I felt to Ori and Naru was much more pronounced than in many games. Platformers typically include cookie-cutter characters. Ori and the Blind Forest is different. The beginning scenes really made me smile. I immediately related to Naru as she cuddled Ori or playfully tossed him into the air. Seeing them together as mother and child brought my own experience of being a mom to the forefront. It’s perhaps for this reason that Naru’s death felt heartbreaking to me. Even though Naru is around only during the first minutes of the game, I formed an emotional connection to her that made me want to see her adopted child succeed in his quest.

Takeaway

Ori and the Blind Forest is a game that packs a big emotional punch. Because some mastery of platforming skills is required, it may be difficult for new gamers to play. But the game is so beautiful that watching it is enjoyable as well. Its vast world and hours of gameplay make it a great value at a relatively low price. I highly recommend it to young and old players alike.