Have you checked your console or computer lately? You may have discovered a rather distinctive character tromping around. It’s Tembo the Badass Elephant, and he’s representative of Game Freak’s best and most creative side. Pokemon is all well and good, but sometimes you want a game where you can see the developers are having fun with the concept.
Tembo the Badass Elephant is one of those games. It’s the sort of concept you’d come up with when sitting around, developing imaginary games with friends. “What if there was this elephant soldier who plowed his way through warzones, carrying people to safety on his back?” There it is! Some company did it. This cartoonish creation was brought to life, and our gaming libraries are better for it.
Because, while Tembo the Badass Elephant is a formulaic platformer, it’s the creative motivations behind it that matter. As I play through this and other Game Freak games, I wonder if the other titles are so unconventional because they’re a release. Like if the team relishes the chance to spread its wings when it isn’t trying to cram an extra 100 monsters into the latest Pokemon.
Soliti Horse is another perfect example of Game Freak’s ingenuity. It’s a horse raising game, a genre Japan loves for some reason, combined with Solitaire. Matching cards makes the horse do better in races. Breeding ensures better steeds. It’s the oddest combination, but it manages to pull together and work. It’s one of the developer’s most unconventional titles, and my greatest lament is that more people haven’t played it. Because really, it would have been a simple localization and is delightfully weird.
Fortunately, we do sometimes get these Game Freak oddities. Tembo the Badass Elephant is only the most recent example. HarmoKnight serves as another. It’s a side-scrolling platformer, like Tembo the Badass Elephant, but relies on rhythm. If you can’t keep the beat, you aren’t going to beat the levels. The game featured a sense of whimsy most don’t possess, due to its fanciful characters. Surprisingly, it also proved quite challenging, showing quite a bit of thought was put into making it a deep experience.
But we’ve spent enough time talking about Game Freak’s various platformers. By this point, the developer is as famous for games like Pulseman, Smart Ball, Drill Dozer and HarmoKnight. We know they make creative games with unusual characters for people to enjoy. I mean, this is a company that made use of the Game Boy Advance’s rumble pak! We should end this little love fest for Game Freak’s more unusual titles with another obscure game that had an interesting mechanic for the time.
We’re ending this with Mario and Wario. An SNES title that relied upon the mouse peripheral, players were tasked with helping Yoshi make his way to Luigi so the plumber can remove a bucket from the dinosaur’s head. This was done, of course, by having a fairy with a magic wand make blocks appear to form a path. (Maybe one of Super Mario 3D World‘s Sprixies?) It was charming and shows even then that Game Freak was always thinking.
There’s nothing better than a game where Game Freak gets to spread its wings. They may look a little peculiar. The gameplay may be a little weird. But there’s nothing odd about wanting to love one of these titles up.