Despite its clearly budget title status, Tamarin, on paper, seemed like a surefire thing for my 3D platform obsessiveness. Developed by Chameleon Games, who are composed of ex-Rare employees, and designed as a spiritual successor to Jet Force Gemini with a dash of Banjo-Kazooie thrown in, I was quite excited to give this little game a go. But with seven years of development time under the hood, would Tamarin swing from the trees or crash to the leaf-litten floor?
Players are placed in the feet of a Tamarin monkey, whose world comes to a burning end when the insect world from below, after spending years building up a sizable army, assaults the upper world with a scorched earth policy, capturing or killing the local wildlife and leaving our heroes home a pile of cinders. His family captured, our hero sets out to save them and whatever wildlife is left.
Along the way, you’ll fight many gun-toting ants and various insects, save birds from certain death, get help from fireflies that aren’t with the other insect’s plans, and meet a hedgehog only too eager to turn you into a gun-wielding monkey murder machine.
Tamarin feels like a game made back in the experimental days of early 3D platformers when the genre was a dime a dozen. It starts life as a cute mascot platformer before popping a gun in your hand and turning into a 3rd person shooter and then swops back and forth between play styles in equal fashion. You’ll do some basic platform exploration in the world, then spend some time shooting insects in the face before going back to platforming. You get the flow the game is going for in an attempt to keep things fresh and make sure you’re not doing one thing for too long.
As with most platformers, you’ll need to collect items which are used as the game’s currency while the dragonflies you collect act as keys to new levels. The birds you save have little bird homes scattered across Tamarins world and for every three you rescue and return, you’ll get one dragonfly. Unfortunately, Tamarin doesn’t have an in-game map and while the world isn’t massive in scope, remembering where the bird homes are located is a chore. The dragonfly aspect artificially lengthens the playtime as a certain amount are required per dragonfly door. Closer to the games end you’ll find yourself having to run across the world, looking for bird homes to get those dragonflies as there’s quite a jump in how many you’ll need.
Visually Tamarin isn’t the best looking game on the market. It’s not entirely terrible either but it’s budget title status certainly shows as most environments are relatively simple while others are incredibly bland, sporting basic texturing. One truly odd effect is the post-processing effects that the developers have used to create the illusion of fur on our little monkey king and the look of leaves on trees. It just looks blurry and odd.
But visuals are only one part of the game and good gameplay will always trump visuals. So how does Tamarin actually hold up considering its two distinct play styles?
The answer here is a mixed bag, unfortunately. When it works, Tamarin’s platforming and shooting can be fun, if not challenging. Tamarin is, by all accounts a very easy game. The problem is that those moments in which you can just enjoy the world exploration or some satisfying shooting tend to be few because Tamarin has some serious problems with its most basic gameplay systems: namely, a terrible camera system that turns the platforming into a headache and truly horrid 3rd person shooting mechanics which the awful camera aggravates even more.
Apart from having collision detection which makes the camera a nightmare in close quarters and awkward platform setups, it reorients immediately as soon as you start to move. Couple that with limited views, because you can’t pan it down far enough to see what’s below you let alone how close you are to the edge of something, it makes precision jumping, especially on the games springboards completely frustrating. You’re either missing the edge of the board/object/cliff because you can’t pan down far enough – or to drop to a lower ledge because you can’t even see it – or overshooting the board/cliff/object because the camera reorients just as you jump and tries to stay locked behind you. The timed sections, which are incredibly simple on their own, became annoying as hell.
When climbing walls, which usually have enemies moving along them as well, you can’t look very far left or right and the camera won’t even pan up or down.
Now take that camera and add it to the 3rd person shooting mechanics, which are awful on their own, and you’ve got a frustration inducing experience that, more than once, had me walking away as I began to grip my controller too hard.
The direction in which you’re shooting is, of course, handled by the right stick, which is pretty much par for the course, but there is no crosshair to tell you what you’re aiming at until you actually start to shoot. L2 pulls up the crosshair for lock-on aiming which, bizarrely, only locks onto enemies and objects above you and is pretty sporadic at best. Holding it down should give you precision aiming, but since it’s designed as a lock-on system with L2 engaged, it doesn’t really work at all. Nothing in front of or below you will be locked onto and if you want precision body aiming, the camera system actually fights you trying to aim either up or down, almost like a stubborn mule that refuses to move. Couple that with the camera reorientation and collision detection in the many tight corridors that abound and even strafing becomes a complete chore. Trying to escape an area into cover usually ended up with me running at the camera because the camera couldn’t be rotated to my back – even with the silly reorientation thing – because it was clearly stuck on something. It’s difficult to describe just how counter-intuitive the entire setup is without actually sticking a controller in your hand. Eventually, I gave up on subtlety and hoped that I could simply tank each combat section.
And then there are all the other little bugs and issues that the game has. Things are very poorly explained to you – or not at all – such as pressing the square button while jumping gives you a bit of a lunge for extra distance, or that the scripted long jump ability and the places you can use it in are poorly marked. Sometimes collecting fireflies, which you have to lock onto and then jump at, is very iffy as Tamarin will jump right past it even though it’s stationary and only two feet in front of him. Odd collision detection abounds on small rocks that you should be able to run over easily and there’s some painful enemy placement in the games later sections.
Now I know this is meant as a throwback to the games of yore, at least in feeling if not execution, but it feels as though the designers haven’t played a platformer or 3rd person shooter in the last decade.
As much as I wanted to like Tamarin in those rare moments when the game worked as the developers clearly intended it to, those moments were far too fleeting and immediately spoiled by the above problems. Tamarin still feels like it needs more work, but after seven years it’s hard to imagine just what else the developers could do beyond bug fixing when its basic design foundation comprises its core problems.
Written By M. A. Ligocki
You can purchase this game here for £32.99
Tamarin is also available on PC and Xbox One.
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Leap into action and discover nature in Tamarin, a third-person action-adventure game set in beautiful Nordic scenery, starring the world's cutest monkey. Pollution and destruction from ever-expanding insects sets the agile monkey into a fight for his family’s survival.
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 34.99
Product In Stock: SoldOut