Four Interesting Things Tamarin is Doing as a 3D Platformer
These are four things about Tamarin for PC and PS4 that stuck out to DualShockers during an interview with its developers.
Fans of 3D platformers have been spoiled over the past couple of years. Yooka-Laylee, A Hat in Time, and Super Mario Odyssey immediately come to mind. As all of those games were releasing, Chameleon Games was chipping away at a title that not only pulls from several classic Rare titles like Banjo-Kazooie and Jet Force Gemini, but is injecting its own flair into things with a focus on a setting tied to more natural environments and a unique animal mascot. That game is Tamarin.
Recently, I was able to talk with Chameleon Games’ Omar Sawi and Richard Vaucher about various aspects of their imminent 3D platformer. Over the course of our conversation, the following four things stuck out to me about Tamarin, and highlight what will help it stand out among the ever-increasing competition.
Tamarin Features Beautiful Nordic Landscapes but Shows Our Negative Impact on Nature
Highlighting nature’s beauty has been a goal since Tamarin’s start. “The game is about nature, traveling the world, and seeing wildlife and new locations,” Omar Sawi told us. Many of the game’s environments are based on the Nordic region, as that is where Omar is from. That being said, he stressed that “it’s mostly a visual theme thing, it’s not so much about landscapes,” before delving into how Chameleon Games wants Tamarin’s environments to feel natural without having a negative impact on gameplay. We design the structure of the level around what the tamarin can do, so we don’t want to make the environment first, we want to make it around what the tamarin can do and then build on from there…We’re trying to stick to it looking natural and still have that sort of gameplay. ”
He also highlighted that Tamarin showcases the stark contrast between the beauty of nature and how it can be destroyed if we aren’t careful. “There’s definitely a contrast between that exploration, that openness, the natural, with the closed spaces that you go into when you are in the underground. That contrast was important, to put nature against what’s not nature.” The ants, who are the primary villains of the game that mostly dwell (and dance) underground, can be seen as analogs of how people treat nature. “The forest is destroyed by the ants, and it doesn’t say so in the game but there is a message there about people and how they drive animals out of their habitats. That’s sort of the underlying theme,” Sawi concluded.
Richard Vaucher also discussed how he balanced the realism and cartoonish aspects of the games when crafting its environments. “I sculpted the backgrounds and tried not to go too far in micro-details to over-sculpt or over-texture things. It’s still using vivid colors with things like the tamarin so it is not too muddy or too brown like real landscapes. It’s keeping the colors, going vivid, and keeping the textures simplified in a way…it’s a balance between the realistic and cartoony visuals,” he said.
Interestingly, Chameleon Games also revealed to DualShockers that for the game’s levels, they “wanted it to be all over the world to begin with, but that seemed too ambitious, so we started with where we come from.” Hopefully, those Nordic-inspired landscapes will serve as a nice backdrop for Tamarin’s adventure.
Ensuring Tamarin Controls Well Was Emphasized During Development
One thing that left me optimistic about the direction Tamarin is headed is that the developers are putting an emphasis on ensuring the playable tamarin controls well. That seems to be at the center of the game’s design, and that was usually the case during the development of many great platformers. “We tried as hard as possible to nail the feeling of controlling the tamarin. That leaping mechanic is important. The way he jumps and does leaps from spot to spot is almost like Lion King when the lions jump from rock to rock or Spider-Man when he goes from place to place,” Sawi elaborated. He also highlighted the talents of Richard Vaucher, who he credits with nailing that feeling through animation. “That energy and animation is important, and Richard is really good at animation so he’s been able to nail a lot of that to make great movement so it feels great to control.”
The sole playable tamarin’s move set will not be stagnant over the course of the game either. “You upgrade the tamarin as you go along in the game. You get new abilities that you can use to reach new areas. It might help you reach areas you couldn’t reach before or, in shooter areas where you will have a tool or weapon, you can open new pathways through the environment.” Tamarin’s tool-focused are sections are where the game leans into its Jet Force Gemini roots, and Sawi discussed how these sections will control in comparison to standard platforming. “[Sections where the player uses tools] are separate from the other playstyle. You can’t do both at the same time and they are laid out in sections. The basic controls are the same, though the tamarin doesn’t jump as high when he has tools.”
Omar Sawi also gave some insight into why he chose the tamarin to be the adorable mascot protagonist. “When I started out, I looked at all of the cute animals nobody has made a game about before and I found the tamarins. I thought they were really fun because they are so agile and fast and they can jump from place to place, so I thought it would be a really great animal to make an action game about.”
Tamarin’s Areas are All Interconnected
Another smart design choice Tamarin is taking from great games like Banjo-Kazooie is that it “has been a really be focus” to make its areas interconnected. As players improve over the course of the game, they will be able to “come back to areas they’ve been to before and will be able to see and play them in a new way or will be able to find a new entrance or a new exit.” Sawi connects this mindset to that of the 3D Metroidvania.
“That’s the appeal of Metroidvania designs, you can come back and go ‘Aha, I didn’t know I could get there!'” he began. “You see it from a new perspective, and the worlds are connected to each other. There’s open world games that are very popular nowadays and then there’s more linear games, but we wanted to have something more in the middle where you get familiar with your environment and you start to learn the whole world you are in and map it out in your head.”
While these areas are interconnected, Sawi likened Tamarin’s pace to that of an album. “It’s laid out like a music album in a way. There’s slow songs and then you have fast songs and it shifts between them. You have sections where the tamarin is on all fours and he’s using his body to explore the environment, and that’s more like a playground area where you can do anything in any order you want. Whereas, when you get the tools, it can then go into a biped mode and he has a tool in his hands.” Like with the environment, the developers believe that “it’s supposed to have contrast…in this game, you’ll have exploration for a while and then suddenly you get into a battle scene and there’s more action and things happening.”
Some of Tamarin’s Collectibles Have Independent and Dynamic Behaviors
One complaint that can often be leveled towards collectathons is that the collectibles are boring and stagnant. By taking the idea of “behavioral collectibles” from Jet Force Gemini’s Tribals and putting it into a more traditional 3D platformer, Chameleon Games has made the collectibles in Tamarin more lively. “That was one of the main things, to have the collectible characters feel intractable so they aren’t just collectibles, in a way. One criticism of the old Rare games was that you just got a lot of [no-frills] collecting. In this game, we’re trying to make it so there’s a relationship and a dynamic between different characters,” Sawi stated.
He confirmed that both birds and fireflies serve as collectibles, and players interact with them in different ways. “We also have fireflies, which are the main collectible, so they’re like stars in Mario. The fireflies are actually evasive and have a variety of behaviors so you can’t always just go and catch them…Some go up and down, some fly away, some go in the bushes.”
The players aren’t the only thing with a relationship to the collectibles, as he also confirmed the enemies will interact with them as well. “The ants, they actually try to kill birds and the birds try to avoid the ants while trying to chase the player. There’s that dynamic between them where you have to try and get the birds before they are killed by ants. There was something a little bit similar in Jet Force Gemini also, but it’s more flexible [in Tamarin].”
Hopefully, this mechanic will ensure that Tamarin’s moment to moment gameplay in these collectible-focused moments will be more entertaining than most 3D platformers.
Through these four things, Chameleon Games’ Tamarin is sticking out from the competition. While some of them may seem obvious, like focusing on crisp and responsive controls, they are the baseline elements that make most classic platformers like Super Mario 64 what they are. By blending in elements of Jet Force Gemini with the tools and behavioral collectibles, Tamarin should hopefully emerge as a standout title in a field of more and more Rare-inspired platformers that continue to come about.
Tamarin is currently slated to release for PC and PS4 later in the summer. While the developers did not deny the possibility of ever bringing the game to other platforms, these were the two targeted at the start of Tamarin’s development five years ago.