Review – Tamarin

A lot of you may have never heard of Tamarin prior to its release, but I was looking forward to it for almost a year. The moment I saw its first trailer, I was instantly craving for it. Not only is the game developed by a bunch of former Rare employees, but it also looked like a spiritual successor to one of my absolute favorite games of all time: Jet Force Gemini. I really wanted it to be good. After Playtonic’s fantastic efforts with Yooka-Laylee and its sequel, I was hoping for more former Rare developers to follow suit and deliver something equally nostalgic and refreshing. What I ended up getting, however, is one of the most disappointing gaming experiences of 2020 so far.

Tamarin

Do you see these proximity mines? They sound identical to the ones from Jet Force Gemini…

I was hopeful the moment the game started. I was presented with a somewhat cheap, but captivating cutscene showcasing our titular Tamarin’s family, as they are instantly kidnapped by an army of militarized ants and beetles. The moment the game started, I noticed that the controls felt more like Banjo-Kazooie than Jet Force Gemini, at least at first. My tamarin had the ability to do a high crouch jump, as well as a rolling attack. Things changed the moment I jumped into the first world and talked to a nearby hedgehog.

For no reason whatsoever, the hedgehog gave me a freaking Uzi and told me to kill all nearby ants. I was then greeted to a very small tutorial video explaining my main objective, who to kill, and who to save. It felt familiar. Very familiar. In fact, it quickly ended up infuriating me: it was literally the same intro video from Jet Force Gemini, almost verbatim. The ants are also called drones and they feature the same sound effects that were present in that game from twenty-one years ago. I began to notice how this game wasn’t simply a spiritual successor to JFG, it was a blatant copy of it. The first level felt so ridiculously similar to Goldwood, to the point of featuring the same mine-themed sub region filled with proximity mines (which, by the way, featured the same sound effects from the Nintendo 64 game).

Tamarin

What a cute hedgehog… who’s also an arms dealer.

Things only got worse from then on. The worst part of Jet Force Gemini was having to collect the Tribals, small animals that acted like that game’s main macguffin. Instead of trying to improve on past mistakes, Tamarin just features reskinned Tribals. You’ll need to collect birds scattered throughout levels, and guess what, they can be killed by your guns or enemy fire. Not only that, but enemy drones are programmed to kill them on sight, forcing you to redo a level in order to reacquire any missing birds. You need to collect them in order to acquire yet another collectible, small fireflies that act as this game’s equivalent of Super Mario 64‘s stars. They open up new worlds for you to explore. It’s not derivative of JFG, granted, but still hella unoriginal.

Tamarin

A crate maze filled with ants. You know what other game had that exact level? Jet Force Gemini…

There are some levels in Tamarin which feature no third-person shooting whatsoever, to my relief, considering how clunky and unpolished this game’s combat is. These levels force you to hand over your guns to the same hedgehog gun dealer, reverting the control scheme back to that uninspired yet functional 3D platformer gameplay style I mentioned in the beginning of the review. This is when Tamarin manages to be less infuriating, as these levels are filled with small puzzles to solve, but that doesn’t mean it was actually enjoyable. One thing was bugging me at all times: this game is simply not charming at all.

Tamarin

I hope you like caves. This game is infested with them.

With the exception of the titular character, which is admittedly beyond adorable, Tamarin is not a charming game, nor a visually pleasing one. Everything but our adorable protagonist just looks like a bunch of random assets thrown into a basket, with little to no art direction involved. The ants look extremely similar to the ones in Jet Force Gemini, but without the charm. Everything feels completely out of place. Why is a tamarin holding actual firearms? Why do the ants explode into a cloud of blood and guts when I shoot them with explosives? And why do the industrial levels look like they were intended to be part of a completely different game? I know that suspension of disbelief is necessary in order to enjoy a fantasy game like Tamarin, but the art direction is so botched that I can’t help but question almost everything I see in front of me while I play it.

Not even the fact that David Wise composed the soundtrack helped make the game more enjoyable. Despite being one of his weakest compositions, it’s still a pretty decent collection of tunes. Too bad that the soundtrack is hampered by how derivative and uninspired the sound effects are, since the majority of them are literal carbon copies of sound effects present in Jet Force Gemini. Sadly, an alright soundtrack, a cute protagonist, and a stable framerate can’t save Tamarin from being such a letdown.

Tamarin

Not as charming as it looks.

I’m beyond disappointed. I was really hoping Tamarin was going to be the spiritual sequel to Jet Force Gemini I’ve been waiting for the past twenty years. What I ended up getting was a carbon copy of an old game with even clunkier controls, underwhelming production values, a terrible setting, and not a single droplet of charisma or humor. If all I wanted was to literally play Jet Force Gemini on a modern console, I’d have just resorted to Rare Replay.

 

Graphics: 6.5

The titular Tamarin is adorable and well-animated, and the framerate is quite decent. The rest of the game doesn’t look as good, however. Everything just looks like a bunch of random assets thrown inside the same basket, with little to no art direction involved.

Gameplay: 4.0

The same control scheme from Jet Force Gemini, but with even clunkier aiming and combat mechanics. The platforming is unforgivably clunky while in these shooting stages. The Banjo-esque hub sections are more tolerable, but the platforming is still off-putting.

Sound: 6.5

David Wise is behind the game’s soundtrack, and while this isn’t his best work, it’s still Tamarin‘s highlight. The sound effects are a tremendous disappointment, however, as a good chunk of them are ripped straight from Jet Force Gemini.

Fun Factor: 3.5

Tamarin is creatively bankrupt. It doesn’t try to be a spiritual sequel to its main sources of inspiration: it’s a blatant copy of some twenty year old games, with even clunkier controls and presentation.

Final Verdict: 4.5

Tamarin is available now on PS4 and PC.

Reviewed on PS4.

A copy of Tamarin was provided by the publisher.