tempo1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers the Tempo series, published by Sega and released across several platforms in the United States and Japan in 1995 and 1998.]

Tempo's in the house tonight.

Tempo led a short, unfortunate life in the video gaming world. Unlike the stars of many mascot-based platformers, Tempo wasn't an unlikable jerk; he was just a little grasshopper who wanted to share his love of hip hop dancing with the world. He never infuriated players with repetitive one-liners, and he never got totally in your face with his x-treme attitude.

Poor Tempo merely had the misfortune to arrive on the scene after Bubsy and his ilk had successfully buried the character-driven platformer deep into the Earth's mantle. The fact that Tempo made his debut on Sega's notoriously undersupported 32X didn't exactly help his cause, either. The Tempo games remain an engaging play today, however, and could end up being pleasant surprises to the many who missed these titles when they were first released.

tempo2.jpgYou know he's gonna move your mind.

Developed by RED Company (better known as the creators of Bonk's Adventure and the Sakura Taisen series), Tempo stands out as one of the best games to ever be released for the 32X. Whereas other 32X titles failed in trying to push the hardware's weak 3D capabilities to its limits, Tempo opted instead to use the 32X's power to infuse the game with fluid animation and vibrant background graphics. The result is a solid, refined platformer with a unique look and style made possible by the added horsepower of the 32X.

Tempo is built around the concept of gameplay as performance art. The game's levels are actually sets built inside a TV studio, and an unseen audience often vocally reacts to the action on-screen. While it's entirely possible to play through the game as if it were any other platformer, skilled play and the use of the more complex moves available to Tempo is pleasing to the audience, and is consequently awarded with more points. There are many different endings possible, all of which reflect how well the player entertained the audience throughout the game.

Tempo was followed up in 1998 by a Japan-only sequel for the Sega Saturn. Super Tempo ditches the TV show setup of the original title, and introduces several new gameplay mechanics that make for a radically different experience as compared to its predecessor. Super Tempo is also characterized by its reliance on bizarre humor and obscure references to Japanese folklore, much in the vein of fellow Saturn platformer Keio Yuugekitai Katsugekihen. Unfortunately, this title would mark the end of the Tempo series, as no further sequels were ever released or will likely ever surface.

Didn't buy my game huh? WHY I OUGHTTAThe groove is outta sight.

The debut of the 32X version of Tempo was accompanied by the almost simultaneous release of Tempo Jr. for Sega's Game Gear in 1995. Though it's interesting that such an obscure series would see a unique portable entry, Tempo Jr. is best forgotten because...well, it's pretty bad. Sega did their best to try and cram as much of Tempo's trademark fluid animation into the Game Gear title as possible, but the end result is a sub-average platformer with none of the gameplay innovations found in the original 32X release.

If anything, the mere existence of Tempo Jr. signifies that Sega likely wanted Tempo to be a major franchise, with new releases and sequels spanning all of the company's available platforms. The failure of the 32X as a console pretty much insured that this dream would never become a reality, however. Tempo may have had heart and charm, but neither was enough to overcome the combined evil forces of Bubsy and Sega add-on hardware.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]