Rareware’s (later known as Rare) Banjo -Kazooie, (along with Super Mario 64) paved the way for 3D puzzler platformers alike in the late ’90s. It’s been almost two decades and yet we haven’t really found a proper spiritual successor to this timeless-classic. Things went south for the franchise when Microsoft made an underwhelming purchase of Rare for $375 million. Rare got reduced to making Kinect shovelware and the beloved Banjo has been longing for a return ever since. Things seemed hopeful when a few Rare veterans headed by Chris Sutherland went on to make Yooka-Laylee with an immensely successful Kickstarter of $2.3 million, followed by its release in 2017.
Even though it was a decent game, it never quite lived up to the hype. Now in 2020, the team of Chameleon Games comprising of some of the Rare veterans have released Tamarin, a cute action-adventure platformer with two distinctive playstyles. First, it is a shooter heavily influenced by Jet Force Gemini. Second, it is also a collectathon reminiscent of the Banjo-Kazooie franchise. There is also a striking resemblance to Conker’s franchise, especially Conker’s Bad Fur Day which was released back in 2001. With so many different gameplay elements in place – how does the game fare compared to its old brethren? Is it just a cheap knock-off to exploit your nostalgia or something worth your hard-earned bucks? Well let’s dive right in and see that for ourselves, shall we?
The plot of Tamarin is a rather simple one and is barely even worth mentioning. Tamarins (yes that is a real creature in-case you didn’t know), a bunch of monkey-like furry creatures is attacked by hordes of ants. With their homes burned and razed, all are forced to flee. Now, this is where you come in. You have to find your fellow Tamarins and defeat the Ant Army – that’s pretty much it. Let’s move right ahead to what matters the most – the gameplay.
Run ‘n’ gun
As I said earlier, the game is part shooter reminiscent of Jet Force Gemini. It is a good thing as some of the members of the studio worked on the 1999’s Nintendo classic. Right from the get-go, when you enter the first area, a mole lends you a gun in-exchange for some collectibles. The main weapons that you would be sticking to is a pistol and a machine gun – both of ’em prove to be quite sturdy.
In the shooter levels, the second you run out of ammo, you are nothing more than dead meat, and a lack of manual saves brings in a few moments of tedium as well. These levels often feel confined as you can’t go for jumps of long stretches and you lose the ability to roll. All that you can do is shoot ants and go for the collectives. While though the shooting is fun from a casual perspective, it sure is wonky as hell. The auto-aim feature works well though- provided you have a gamepad ’cause the controls aren’t quite up to the mark with mouse and keyboard.
Shoutout to the Italian plumber
Even though I did mention the fact that it is a part Collectathon like Banjo, there’s more to it than what meets the eye. Besides the shooter levels, there are ones that feel more open-ended – thanks to the mobility of Tamarin. You can roll, jump to ledges at long stretches and do ground-pounds – that’s straight-up Mario, dang! As for my taste, these levels often feel more responsive and there’s less jankiness to them. Even though these doesn’t bring anything new to the table. they are undeniably fun.
My biggest issue in these levels is that the camera angles are pretty bad in closed spaces, and making precise jump around close corners that felt quite overwhelming. The camera is certainly a bummer and the analog controls are just adequate. The fixed camera angles in closed spaces like the narrow tunnels and burrows make the traversal considerably tedious. Plus I had to make close jumps in the burrows for collecting fireflies that allow you to open doors- it was even more cumbersome if you ask me. There’s certainly a bit of work needed in nailing those jumps.
A collectathon of sorts
Tamarin’s campaign feels a bit short and lacking in content. The paths in most platformers tend to be simplistic but the same can’t be said about Tamarin where I often found myself riddled with puzzling paths – not in a good way though. The second thing that didn’t quite stick with me is how these levels ended. Most of the instances, the ending feels too abrupt as these are no bosses waiting for you at the end of the line. It all just boils down to an excuse for gathering a particular number of collectibles and moving to the very next level.
Something new, something borrowed!
Thanks to its eye-popping Nordic sceneries, the game looks adorable. The main character is quite reminiscent of Conker from the remastered version with slightly better lighting. There were some visual glitches at launch, thankfully most of ’em have been fixed through the updates. There are some low-texture assets at places but it’s nothing too significant. Lighting, reflections, and shadows look quite stellar for an indie-platformer.
Things have changed significantly for Tamarin ever since the patch fixes came in – most of the in-game glitches have been addressed. On the downside, there is an abysmal lack of visual tweaks for you to choose on PC, besides lowering the overall effects and resolution. Performance-wise, the game was holding a stable 60 fps at 1080p on my GTX 1050. My guess is anything above a 750 Ti should do just fine.
When it comes soundtracks, Tamarin sure packs a punch. Right off the bat, the music is so captivating that I knew for a fact that it had to be none other than David Weiss – thanks to his triumphant themes from Donkey Kong Country titles. Other than that, the in-game sound effects remain quite decent for the most part.
Even though Tamarin‘s adorable looks doesn’t quite translate well to the gameplay side of things, it remains undeniably fun. The soundtracks are a treat- thanks to the genius of David Weiss. Thanks to its eye-popping visuals and soothing soundtracks, the exploration alone can calm your nerves. But its wonky shooting mechanics, uninspired level design, and high price tag leave much to be desired.