What’s special about Tamarin? More than just a baby monkey with an Uzi

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Have you ever seen a Golden Lion Tamarin monkey? They are, and I must emphasise this, inexplicably adorable. They’re also highly endangered, with a population of approximately 1000 individuals in the wild due to deforestation and industrialisation. It’s impossible not to feel for these little creatures when watching the trailer for Tamarin, a new action/adventure game being developed by Chameleon Games that clearly wants to evoke the viewer’s empathy for these little buggers. An idyllic village razed to the ground by gun-wielding ants, forcing the older tamarin monkeys to flee and leaving only one of the youngest behind to fend for themselves. The game, entitled Tamarin, is clearly pulling no punches in trying to deliver it’s message to the player: Industrialisation is killing the world.

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“I basically went through all the animals of the world and tried to find out if there’re any animals that are really cute that nobody’s made a game about before and ended up with the Tamarins, it’s amazing that nobody’s ever heard about them. It also feeds back into this theme of nature, species going extinct, conservation and deforestation”, said Omar Sawi, Creative Director of Tamarin and founder of Chameleon Games.

I recently sat down with Omar to talk about Tamarin, a passion project of his that’s grown in size over the course of a ten-year development cycle, expanding ever outward into something that looks rather special.

After a while I got in touch with people from Rare, a few key people who were behind some of their most famous games relatively early on, in around 2013. I got in touch with the guy who did Banjo-Kazooie and he was really inspired by the Tamarin and started designing our main character. After he came on it started ballooning and more people started to join the team.

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After watching the trailer for Tamarin, it’s very clear where Omar’s inspirations lie.

I love Rare’s games and I like Nintendo very much. The reason I was attracted to Rare was the number of different games they made that I enjoy. They were able to produce so many wildly different games and most of them were fantastic. I wanted that level of diversity in Tamarin.

Which is clear from the outset, as Tamarin will have players doing all kinds of things: From collecting fire-flies and platforming up to reach out-of-the-way collectables, puzzle-solving and exploration of an interconnected world and even third-person shooting as you challenge and take down the waves of ants slowly encroaching on your home. 

We experimented a lot with the mechanics for years but we knew that we wanted to create that blend of gameplay styles you so often saw in Rare’s games.

There’s a ton of variety in Tamarin, even drawing elements from Metroid Prime to craft a 3D world that expands ever outwards the more abilities and unlocks you earn.

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All this talk of Rare and inspirations coming out of their more well-known products of course made me think of another heavily inspired modern Rare-like, Yooka-Laylee. That’s a game which wore it’s lineage proudly on its sleeve and was unfortunately not too well received by critics and audiences, although Omar set my mind at ease.

From the start we wanted to make Tamarin it’s own original thing, not a follow up or “Number 2” of another game. We wanted those inspirations to be present but not exist just for the sake of having those credentials of an older game, which was harder because you can’t market that to a specific fan-base at once.

Having said that, I’m really glad Chameleon Games have taken this approach. In an age were inspiration and “nostalgia money” are so often confused, I found it refreshing to know that Tamarin is trying to modernise the past rather than cash-in on it.

Which I think also goes for the overall genre of Tamarin. Making a 3D platformer in a time where the genre has long since been considered dead was both a challenge and a drive for Chameleon Games.

I thought about the 3D Platformer genre long ago in 2013 and I realised that there were too few of them. And people asked if the genre had nothing more too contribute, but I thought that there was still something to offer players. The feeling of exploring new worlds and locations, the stories that can be told.

In a similar vein, Omar went into Tamarin wanting to create something unique and special:

A lot of games like Tamarin have been criticised for only having collectables to find and I thought about then making the collectables mobile. That way you both learn the layout of the environment and have to always be prepared for the unexpected. The characters in the environments are dynamic, with enemies and friendly characters interacting with each other in emergent ways, leading to gameplay that always feels unexpected and fresh.

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And yet despite all the innovations to older platformers and growing the genre, I think the thing that really stood out to me was how openly dark the game was. Despite the stylised Tamarin monkeys, with their large eyes and furry heads, the game opens to your playable character, a child, being abandoned by its troop while your home burns down behind you. It’s a remarkably stressful way to start this game, contrasting the cute visuals with narrative material that’s heavy in the themes that it’s tackling. Yet I appreciate that in its own right. Omar wants to present a world and story that are both fun to experience but can also deliver a serious message for players to take away from it all. “It’s a fight for survival, a reflection on how tough the world is. What do you do when you lose everything? It’s pretty ruthless. That’s what’s really happening in the world, the strong are taking everything. We’re trying to tell that story through the space you exist in”.

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Honestly, from my time chatting with Omar, what sold me on Tamarin more than anything else is the passion. This has been a pet project for him for many years now, and you can hear it from how he speaks about his thought process and his inspirations. I’ve always said that heart and passion are one of the first things I look for in games being made nowadays when the market is saturated with sequels and cynical cash grabs, it warms my heart to know that Omar and the rest of Chameleon Games are working to develop the game that they themselves would have grown up playing not just to turn a profit and make shareholders happy but because they believe in the art that they’re creating. Tamarin is due out later this year and I can’t wait to give it a look.

Last Updated: July 17, 2019

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