Tamarin should have been a slam dunk. There’s very little about Tamarin’s origins that once you know them, veteran game fans like me (and us all here at Finger Guns, to be honest) would be enough to render you so very excited about what it could have been. From a team of Rare developers ported directly from their N64 golden era, there’s no real reason on paper why this fun experiment shouldn’t have at least rendered a nostalgic experience full of the fun and whimsy you’d expect from developers you remember being so very passionate about their work, and it shining through around every corner.
It’s sad to say then that Tamarin is lacking in basically all of the greatness you would expect. The trailers may have had you believe this was a cutesy platformer shooter, something akin to mixing Banjo Kazooie with Jet Force Gemini which, essentially, is what Tamarin is trying so desperately hard to be. The wonder of a studios heyday is instead replaced with expansive but bland and empty levels with about as much depth as a behind-the-scenes documentary on Love Island. It’s kind of heartbreaking.
It’s just all so weird. There’s an unsettling nature throughout that puts the player at odds with whatever tone Tamarin is attempting to convey. You play as a little Tamarin whose home is burned to the ground by giant gun wielding insects. What appeared to be something rather cute is instantly destroyed and the images projected into our retinas is one of a rather sweet and cute animal world decimated, lost to the fire and the flames. It’s up to you to bring peace back to your home and rid the world of the insect invasion once and for all. Oh and your family has been kidnapped or something so that needs to be dealt with also. I mean, your entire forest burning down was probably enough of a motivation, but sure let’s throw imprisoned family members in there too, right?
No matter how hard it tries, Tamarin is not a cutesy platformer. Yes, you’re a fuzzy little monkey thing with giant eyes and just enough furryness to be cute, but you don’t emote. You have cool ‘static’ animations like sitting or lying down, but it’s only cute once. There’s nothing cute about anything else other than your character because, gentle reminder, the world around you is burning to a crisp and your family is gone.
If you haven’t seen the trailers for Tamarin you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a typical cutesy platformer with a jolly soundtrack and family friendly enemy eliminations right? Well, about ten minutes into Tamarin you’re given a Uzi to shoot the ever living crap out of your giant ant foes, blasting their heads up with reckless abandon. Your guns will range from Uzi’s to machine guns, rocket launchers and the like. They’re just lying around so you’re welcome to go full Liam Neeson to save your family. This is where the tonal shift begins. Out of nowhere the music drops into a dystopian neon-infused 80’s fuzz, channeling New Order or Depeche Mode whilst exploring these bright, breezy environments with an Uzi in your hand. It just feels off, all the time.
It’s not offensively broken, but something is always in the back of your head thinking ‘this is weird, the music is way off’. Tamarin is supposed to be unexpectedly bleak I guess, but the score is a dreadful inclusion. You’ll think you’re playing through a secret anthro mission in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and it makes absolutely no sense.
Then there’s the combat. We’ve talked about how your Tamarin is stacked to the nines with a weaponry that would make Rambo a little concerned to enter this particular forest, the problem being Tamarin can’t shoot for toffee. The floating reticle is infuriating on the Uzi, but what’s hilarious is that it’s perhaps the most accurate of the weapons in the game. There are segments where a multitude of smaller enemies will fly together in the air and create a kind of Space Invaders esque square where you’ll need to take them out one by one in order to progress through a door which is normally behind them or at least nearby. To do this you can hold down L1 (or your equivalent) and then drag the right stick around so your weapons reticle can very slowly follow your movement as you shoot. If this sounds like absolute hell, well, it is.
Whenever I came across one of these enemy walls I sighed, I simply couldn’t be bothered to waste my time with it and the game just assumes I have nothing better to do than put up with its crappy gun mechanics. *sigh*
The platforming of Tamarin is rather by the numbers. In hub worlds you’ll be relieved of your weapons and able to jump around a little more freely by rolling and doing some backflips to reach collectibles or health (which is already pretty sparse). Your Tamarin can also do long jumps with a lock-on mechanic, but only on certain platforms, not all of them, because video games. There are collectibles scattered around the hub worlds and the levels themselves, one of them being a currency where you can grab upgrades from a hedgehog you meet at every single important moment. He’s terribly helpful.
Around the hub worlds you’ll also find bird houses, which you can fill up with birds you rescue in the levels from the evil ant scum, who if you’re quick enough into their evil lairs, you can watch murder innocent birds because you were too slow to save them! Yay, thanks for that Chameleon Games! As if Tamarin wasn’t already nightmare inducing enough.
And that’s the entire focal point of Tamarin in a nutshell; everything feels off-kilter. Nothing really makes sense together. The tone and the music. The violence and the cuteness. The desecration of a forest and the revenge story of an impossibly monkey with a machine gun. Tamarin, despite its rather empty levels, is absolutely gorgeous at times. It’s bursting with colour and lovely fjords and mountain levels but interior segments are so, so very bland and boring. Look a little closer at walls and the textures are drab and low-resolution, despite the world surrounding it bursting with light and crisp modelling. Tamarin is entirely at odds with itself throughout its runtime, which I clocked in at around 6 hours. At least it’s over fairly quickly.
There’s little else to go into other than Tamarin is just a desperately disappointing final product, with very little to show for the diamond-tier pedigree that’s pulling the strings.
One of the more disappointing games of the year, Tamarin is pretty to look at but dead behind the eyes, offering very little to win over fans of Rare’s golden age.
Tamarin is available now on PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One and PC.
Developer: Chameleon Games
Publisher: Chameleon Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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