Tamarin, a new 3D platformer published and developed by Chameleon Games brings some surprising elements but curiously lacks innovations made since the Nintendo 64 days.
In Tamarin, you play as the titular, tiny primate who has to save its family and its forest home from the clutches of the Queen Ant and her bug army. When in the opening cutscene, I noticed the more humanoid bug enemies wielded guns, which isn’t exactly that surprising since plenty of enemies in 3D platformers of the past have had guns of some kind. So you probably jump or roll or punch through these enemies right? Well, you can roll through some gunless enemies, but your hedgehog ally surprisingly gives you guns of your own to help defend yourself against the insectoid menace, which in turn also makes this game a third-person shooter, at least partially.
Being a 3D platformer on modern consoles, Tamarin uses this to its advantage by having huge open spaces, much bigger than those featured in the games of past generations. The problem that comes with this is that it’s much easier to get lost and there’s no map or waypoint marker to point you where to go next. Some may like that it doesn’t hold the player’s hand, but the fact that there’s barely anything to point you in the right direction despite how large the areas are is more detrimental to Tamarin than beneficial. There are a few signs here and there telling you what lies ahead, but for the most part, you have to figure it out on your own. While Tamarin’s predecessors may have not always had something obvious to tell you where to go next, their open areas were at least easier to navigate, and definitely smaller by comparison.
For the smaller levels, which you unlock by collecting fireflies throughout the game, your goal is to defeat the bugs inside while also collecting birds and saving them from certain death, and I mean certain death because these bugs will actually shoot them and they will die if you aren’t quick enough. The problem is the aiming feels just ever so slightly off, so it takes a second to aim and that second could spell certain doom for a bird if you aren’t focusing. You will lock on once you’re aimed at an enemy but it doesn’t stay locked on very well, which makes trying to take down enemies a little less convenient. It’s also not all that accurate, which makes shooting down enemies take a little longer and making it more likely for you to get hit. Normally, each level is split off into several sections, and you have to unlock the doors to each of these sections by defeating all the enemies in the area and/or by shooting a nearby switch. This is easy enough, but once again the aiming feeling slightly off weakens this mechanic. Another problem I found is that when you open a door, sometimes it may not be clear where the door is, as the camera doesn’t zoom out or pan to show you, so you might have some trouble finding the door once it has been opened.
Going through these levels actually reminded me a lot of the Agent 9 (another primate with a gun) levels from Spyro: Year of the Dragon, but once again felt like they hadn’t really made innovations since then, offering no new or unique gameplay mechanics. As I previously mentioned with the more open hub areas, finding these sectioned off levels is a big problem, and many areas look similar with nothing to label them the way older platformers might have. It’s also kind of unclear whether there’s a specific order you should go in since you can unlock a level as long as you’ve collected enough fireflies to do so. While this does give you more freedom, the lack of direction still makes it unclear.
In the more open areas, enemies do not have guns and the game acts more like a standard platformer where you have a roll attack, a ground pound, a backflip jump, and an extended jump between certain cliffs. Having weapons equipped only allows you to do the standard jump, but you can give them back to your hedgehog friend for safekeeping while you explore. There doesn’t seem to be much of an advantage when trying to go through the non-hub levels without your weapons, and it makes some impossible to get through since you can’t shoot the switches you need to. I would have liked to see more of an ability to switch gameplay styles with these levels to offer a more unique and innovative design. On another note, the hedgehog is only in specific locations, so it’s a chore to go find him to get your weapons back, and depending on the location you could even get stuck! I’m not sure why the hedgehog isn’t in front of the door to every level when weapons are required, as this would make a lot more sense than just having him in a few random locations, some of which wear he won’t even take or give you your weapons. Seems like a bit of an oversight on the developers’ part. (this is also the reason why there’s a screenshot with me aiming at the hedgehog rather than an enemy)
While the graphics aren’t the most impressive (at least on the PS4 version I’ve been playing), it does look appealing with vibrant colors that shine through with a watercolor painting-like quality. The music is also nice to listen to and has often gotten stuck in my head. Even the enemies love the tunes as I saw some of them randomly dancing to it in one level.
Overall, I’ve been enjoying my time with Tamarin, but I feel like it could have been so much more due to all the progress games have made since the start of the 3D platformer genre back in the 90s’. All of the previously mentioned flaws are ultimately what will keep me from finishing it or even continuing to play it. I’d recommend it if you’re a big fan of 3D platformers like the Spyro and Banjo Kazooie series (particularly because some of the developers are former Rare employees), but just don’t go in expecting something better with a lot of modern improvements just because it was made more recently. It’s far from perfect due to its imitation without innovation approach, but otherwise, it’s a mediocre platformer that provides a relatively adequate time for fans of the genre.