Tamarin is a game that could have been so much more. It looks to be inspired by N64 games such as Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Jet Force Gemini, but does not reach the heights of those beloved titles. At times frustrating, and most times uninspired; I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with my time in Tamarin’s world.
You play as a cutesy tamarin monkey whose home has been destroyed by gun-toting imperialist insects. They move swiftly, taking over, polluting and expanding their oppressive factories of stone and steel. Some allegory for you. Your goal is to find your family and maybe rescue some birds along the way. A fairly simple plot for a simple game.
A Monkey With a Gun
Tamarin is segmented into portions of platforming and combat. The combat is what may set it apart from other similar titles. You meet a friendly hedgehog, who gives you a little backstory to the insects and their motives. And then they give you an item essential to your impending fight with the ants; one which brought my jaw to the floor. An Uzi.
I must admit, a shoot-em-up was the last thing I was expecting. However, it seems the titular tamarin isn’t one to take the occupation of their homelands lying down. You go around cleaning house like a simian John Wick. You have the weaponry to show for it too, from machine guns to rocket launchers. Unfortunately, What holds it all back from what could have been an extremely fun time, was the godawful camera.
The camera in Tamarin infuriated me to no end, whenever I found myself indoors, which is where most firefights take place. The camera would constantly zip around to compensate for my positioning, which was necessary to avoid enemy fire. This made aiming a nightmare. I often struggled to accurately lock on to enemies or get the reticle to where it needed to be in a fight.
Being such an integral part of the gameplay, it was seriously disappointing to see gun-play that was so lackluster. It all just felt under-baked, like there was unrealised potential beneath the surface.
The platforming I’d say was the better of the two main gameplay elements, but even this was frustrating in its own way. The platforming itself wasn’t terrible per se. It’s got your basic movements, and includes a rolling maneuver to hit enemies. You’ve also got objects for traversal, such as a springboard to get to high places and climbable walls. Yet alongside the necessities, you’ve got some odd inclusions such as a leaping mechanic that requires you to get into position across from a ledge and then lock on before hitting the jump button. It breaks the flow of platforming one is accustomed to in these kinds of games. It would have been preferable to have a stronger jump, or perhaps making use of an alternate version of the springboard to leap across larger gaps.
The purpose of the platforming is to collect fireflies, and discover gateways that require a certain number of said fireflies to open them. Some fireflies are tucked away for you to find, while others require you to complete timer events in order to acquire them. There’s some variety here and with a good number of enemies to avoid and defeat. However, once you have completed one area, none of the others really set themselves apart in a meaningful way. By the end I could not help but see them as glorified fetch quests that just padded the runtime; which is around 4 hours give or take.
Thank You For The Music
On a positive note, Tamarin does have some surprisingly good music. From the composer of a few Donkey Kong entries, David Wise provides a great soundtrack for the game. From the melodic piece around the main area to the more synth-y combat tracks reminiscent of an 80’s action movie. The soundtrack here makes the experience a lot more enjoyable.
Tamarin has this pixelated or low resolution quality to its design, that just reinforces the association and inspiration of old school 3D platformers. It can be reasonably good looking though, especially with its more modern lighting. My biggest gripe, however, is the lack of visual variety. No area feels particularly unique, outside of the razed area that was once the main character’s home. Like an apocalyptic landscape out of Fallout, it stands as an example of the path of destruction the insects leave behind.
Oh, What Could Have Been
Unfortunately no other area has much to offer visually, there are woodlands, caves and the industrial centres that mark the insects’ base of operation. Tamarin just cycles between these kinds of locations and could have benefited from something more. Especially an area that had a look and feel that set it apart from the rest. Nothing on display here felt like something I haven’t seen done elsewhere and done better.
There is fun to be had, but it just isn’t enough to leave a lasting impression outside of disappointment. For those in love with platformers and the N64 era there might be some value here. There is not enough, however, to rope in anyone from outside those circles.