Tamarin Review: Jet Force Kazooie 64

by David Sanchez September 10, 2020 @ 10:18 am

Tamarin PS4 open world gameplay.

Reviewed on PlayStation 4

It’s kind of a cool little moment whenever we see a new 3D action-platformer — a throwback to the glory days of the Nintendo 64 when mascot titles like Super Mario 64 and Donkey Kong 64 reigned supreme. Tamarin from Chameleon Games takes great pride in being a callback to Jet Force Gemini, Banjo-Kazooie, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. The game mixes classic platforming with third-person shooting and action-adventure exploration, and it mostly works. There are a few rough spots, but there’s a lot to like if you’ve been looking for a solid retro 3D action game.

That Old, Familiar Feeling

During the opening moments of Tamarin, you’ll instantly see the inspiration that old school 3D platformers had on the team at Chameleon Games. And it makes sense, considering the studio has some former Rare devs in its ranks. The story is minimalist and gets straight to the point: Evil bugs have invaded your home, and they’re intent on burning everything to the ground and industrializing the mountainous forests the titular primate calls home.

Tamarin character interactions.

Within the first few minutes, you’ll feel like you’re being transported back in time. Though the graphics are obviously an upgrade from the polygonal days of the N64, there are a lot of references to classic Rare titles. One of the first characters you meet, for example, is a hedgehog that pops out of a pile of dirt like Goggles from Banjo-Kazooie. Also, when you enter the first major area, you get a swinging camera shot of the level layout, with a narrator explaining that you’ll have to shoot and kill enemy bugs, just like in Jet Force Gemini.

Speaking of which, if I had to pick just one game to compare Tamarin to, it would be Jet Force Gemini. Though the collection gameplay of other Rare titles is certainly present, this game takes most of its cues from the classic third-person shooter. It almost feels like a spiritual successor to that game — and because I absolutely loved Jet Force Gemini, you can bet I was all in when I started playing Tamarin.

Jet Force Gemini-Like

The gameplay of Tamarin is a combination of combat and exploration. When you’re in a big level, you’ll have to kill giant ants and beetles to unlock doors to new areas. These life force doors are yet another callback to Jet Force Gemini, but the references don’t end there. You can also save little birds that act as collectibles, and in some instances you’ll encounter aggressive bugs that attempt to shoot the innocent birds before you can get to them. This is all taken directly from JFG, and as a fan of that game, it’s cool to see the inspiration.

Tamarin combat and collection gameplay.

You’ll collect different guns along the way, including machine guns and rocket launchers, so you’re always properly equipped when facing bad guys. Combat isn’t too tough, though you’ll face minor challenges when you’re taking on a lot of enemies. Side note: There’s a charm to seeing a furry monkey running around with an uzi.

Unfortunately, while the shooting is pretty entertaining, it’s not exactly polished. Aiming feels slippery and inaccurate, and it can be more work than you’d think lining up a shot and taking down an ant. You can auto aim, but even this takes a bit of adjusting your aim, which is problematic. In addition, at the time of this review, there was no way to invert the aiming controls.

It’s kind of a shame that the aiming is so flawed, because a lot of the gameplay in Tamarin revolves around shooting giant insects. Then there are those moments when you need to shoot switches to open doors, which are also cause for frustration. Ultimately, the shooting mechanics in Tamarin are salvaged somewhat by the fact that you can just hold down the trigger and hope for the best, but this really shouldn’t be the case.

Backflips and Ground Pounds

Tamarin PS4 first level.

When you’re not wildly shooting insects in Tamarin, you’ll be jumping and flipping your way through sections of levels. Sometimes this is just to reach a collectible. Other times you’ll face high vertical structures that lead to new parts of the map. You’ve got standard jumps, backflips, ground pounds, and even context sensitive leaps. All of this mostly works, though the camera can go a bit haywire in tighter spaces. If this is another callback to the N64, it’s one we probably could’ve done without. In all seriousness, though, the camera can be an issue, though it isn’t game-breaking.

Outside of the main levels you’re treated to a big, lush world to explore. Though this exploration is mostly guided, it’s pretty awesome seeing the expansive lands crafted on modern hardware. It’s easy to see that developers in the late ‘90s dreamed of worlds like the one in Tamarin for their games.

In these sections, you’ll find collectible bugs, which you need to unlock new levels like the Power Stars in Super Mario 64. There are also various currencies, which can be used to buy new weapons. While not empty, there’s not too much to do in these semi-open world spaces — they’re just really nice to run around in and look at. That said, you might find yourself getting turned around from time to time, both in the open areas and the smaller levels, which can be annoying.

Tamarin shooting gameplay.

The scenery of Tamarin is really nice to look at. There are times when the textures look a bit fuzzy, but overall, the aesthetic design of the game is pretty good. Everything is rich in color and detail, and the way the game can take you from a grassy forest to a nasty factory makes for some nice contrasts. Also, those bugs are gross and creepy.

The music in Tamarin is a wide range of cheery, catchy, and offbeat theme songs. Some of the music can be a bit generic, but none of it is necessarily bad. There are a few songs that are just kind of weird, but even these have an endearing quality to them.

During the five hours it’ll take you to get through Tamarin, you’ll be reminded of the dawn of the 3D platformer, as well as its evolution with games like Jet Force Gemini, Donkey Kong 64, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, which incorporated more action and shooter elements into the run-jump-explore formula. It faces a few hurdles, and it doesn’t quite clear all of those hurdles, but Tamarin is all about providing a classic action-platformer experience, and it mostly succeeds. If you long for the days of the old Rare platformers, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Score: 7.5 out of 10

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