This week, a Zero Punctuation double feature reviews Rocket League and Tembo The Badass Elephant
Okay, maybe it wasn't fair of me to dismiss Rocket League out of hand two weeks ago; it's just that hearing the word "soccer" always fires my instinct to retract my testicles and cement my butthole shut. I have bad memories from my school days of shivering on a frozen playing field in the mandatory tiny shorts waiting for a ball to bounce past and shortly afterwards my head to be bounced between several pairs of studded boots. That's the last time I take a teaching job. Fuck you, that was an actual joke!
I couldn't escape the fact, however, that Rocket League is pretty crazy popular, and while the same could be said for HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, it's worth a look at least. So I gave it a download to see for myself, and half an hour later I'd seen enough. Not that it was an awful experience, that was just all there was of it to see. Maybe that's the key to massive popularity these days: you make it small and snacky and pass it around like a bowl of Pringles, since the average attention span of young people nowadays is however long it takes to swipe their thumb across a smartphone.
Rocket League is a soccer game between two small teams of remote-control cars. You have the ability to drive around, up walls, and leap and frolic about at each other like a hybrid of a spring lamb and a rutting stag. And somewhere in the ungainly pile of gamboling plastic vehicles is a ball that you're trying to get into the other team's goal. And that's it, really; the pitches are all the same size and shape, there are no upgrades besides cosmetics, so players with more time served aren't advantaged with better cars or hood-mounted Bobby Charltons. The games load and connect fast, the matches are short, it's just in, out, and satisfied, which is funnily enough my nickname among among the single ladies.
I feel rather cunningly undercut here; my ability to complain is limited by the sheer lack of features to complain about. Well fuck you, Rocket League, I'm gonna try anyway. There are two camera modes: normal and focused-on-the-ball, and they both suck. You have to pick between knowing which way you're going and knowing where the ball is, and while I'm doing my silly car-footballing, I don't want to have to wrestle with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Also, if a player is a big sucky sore loser and drops out, they get replaced by bots, which always immediately dominate the game because they're trying, horror of horrors, to win. Not just leap about next to the ball like dolphins alongside a fishing boat, fucking spoilsports.
But I have to admit I had fun playing Rocket League, partly because I'm surprisingly good at it. See, the ambition of most players on public servers seems to be to blindly hurl themselves towards the ball at all times in hope of being able to brag to their mum that they almost touched it once, whereas I just hung around the center pitch doing donuts so I could wait for the ball to pop out of the six-lane pileup like a bar of soap from a shower-room orgy and cheekily tap it into the goal. Must be frustrating for people making really complex games to see Rocket League do so well from just plonking some players in an empty room and waving a flag. But if it's any consolation, it's not the kind of experience that stays with you. The Pringles analogy fits it well: it's quite lovely while it's in your mouth, but after you swallow it, there's a momentary pang of shame and then no one has to worry about it ever again except your long-suffering digestive system.
Right, well that was over quick, which is my other nickname among the single ladies. Might as well do another small game while we're here. How about Tembo the Badass Elephant, an action platformer for digi-download? There's a lot about Tembo that just screams "indie gaming"; the core concept has that very indie tryhard random humor about it, like a man wearing a lampshade in desperate hope of being accepted by his peers. Ooh, it's a commando who's also an elephant; wow, that's not the sort of thing you'd expect a commando to be. Consider my mind blown like a newly-divorced banker on a business trip to Thailand. Also, when it was first released on Steam, they accidentally put out the wrong build at first and had to and had to fix it the next day. Kuh, what a bunch of sillies! But that's the kind of endearing baby-giraffe stumbling you have to expect from an indie g-- wait a minute, published by Sega? Developed by Game Freak? What, the Pokémon guys? You know, that actually makes a strange kind of sense; I know I'd want to do something a little bit different if I'd spent the last twenty years struggling to come up with hundreds of new ways to draw a cat wrong.
Anyway, Tembo is caught somewhere between Contra and Yoshi's Island. It's a linear, as in literal straight-line, path of levels running across a city shaped like a peanut for no particular reason except to establish a visual theme of things elephants like being good. Your task in each level, as well as get to the end, is to find ten hostages hidden in secret places -- that's Yoshi's Island's influence -- and to murder a set checklist of enemy soldiers and vehicles -- that's Contra's, uh, contribution. It does the Yoshi's Island thing where it makes you very much aware of the percentage of collectibles you've found and/or murdered and extremely paranoid about taking what seems to be the obvious way forward while there remain nondescript walls you haven't yet banged your head against looking for secrets. Tembo has three ways of moving through life. Standard walking is so slow it's like he's propelling himself forward through the force of his elephantine turds alone, then there's a charge attack that's on just the annoying side of too fast when you're precision platforming. Lastly, if you press charge while jumping, then Tembo will hurl himself forward like he's trying to stop a bullet meant for the elephant President, "Presiphant," if you will.
One might reasonably infer that Tembo the Badass Elephant is styling itself a comedy game, but in execution it only has one joke that the title already gave away, and I can't sustain myself through the whole slog on a single custard pie. The little annoyances mount up: not having an in-betweeny movement speed is one, and the lives system is another. Those haven't got any less annoying since the last time one of them jizzed in my kettle.
But one might argue that the most important thing I can tell you about a game is the moment at which I cried "Bored now!" and threw the controller into next door's oubliette. In this case, it was during the final boss, which could well be the unlikeliest possible moment to experience "Bored now!" -- when you're over the crest and speeding rapidly downhill towards victory and glory and only a sudden ramping of challenge stands in your way. But all that sudden ramping did in this case was make me realize that even after Tembo's entire epic twelve-level odyssey, I still gave less of a shit than a cork suppository.
- All the Presiphant's Men: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I don't think there was a single level in Tembo where one of the secrets wasn't to the immediate left of the starting point
- My girlfriend is the Presiphant