Developed by Chameleon Games, Tamarin is a colorful platformer with cute characters that is rooted in the 3D platformers of the late 1990s.
The fact that this is the direction they took with Tamarin is no surprise, since the team at Chameleon has roots with Rare and helped develop such classics at Banjo-Kazooie back in the N64 days. That game, just as Rare’s earlier platformers like Donkey Kong Country, just exuded fun, and the era in which they were released is fondly remembered by many. In fact, it’s a large part of the reason why the recent PS4 release of New Super Lucky’s Tale made me so happy, and why I was looking forward to Tamarin.
Unfortunately, Tamarin doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of a super cute and family-friendly platformer that we got from the various trailers and screenshots we had seen. Main protagonist Tamarin is about as cute as can be, and we kind of get how the tone is juxtaposed by giant insects that wield guns, set your home town on fire and trap your family members in the process. Contrast, there is plenty of.
Once Tamarin is equiped with a selection of powerful rifles and rocket launchers, it begins to feel a bit like an identity crisis. This is part Conker’s Bad Fur Day, part Yooka-Laylee – but at least Tamarin doesn’t have Conker’s attitude. While the majority of the game world is bright and colorful, the core plot and the majority of the combat situations are pretty grim and not as family-friendly as games like the recent Spyro remakes – which feels uplifting even during combat. Some of that is because Spyro features lovely soothing and energetic tracks, whereas Tamarin has some music that could have been lifted from a dystopian future sci-fi thriller.
And although I certainly enjoy strange mish-mash concepts in gaming, the individual components need to both be aligned/fit together well and they need to individually “work”. In Tamarin, the gunplay isn’t a lot of fun to play even though it features heavily in the game. The controls are sluggish, and they made me nostalgic for the likes of Ratchet & Clank’s first exploits on the PS2.
Luckily, the platforming fares a lot better, and these sections are the best ones in the games. Once outside without enemies to worry yourself with (you can navigate larger outdoor hub worlds), it’s fun to navigate a beautiful world full of color with Tamarin, and jump and roll around as you pick up collectibles along the way. With a more fleshed out game world and objectives, this portion of Tamarin could have made for a great kid-friendly platformer – a tad generic perhaps, but without any mechanics that are out of place or too convoluted for kids to enjoy.
With its cute character models and beautiful outdoor environments (the interiors are bland and fade in comparison), it’s a shame that Tamarin feels like unrealised potential. Let’s hope we see the protagonist again in a cute platforming prequel without the violent combat that sets a weird tone for this one. Tamarin’s cute and fluffy look is a welcome one in a gaming world where there is little in between games for very young kids on one side and the more adult/teen-focused content on the other. He just needs to star in a game that’s right for him.