Temtem (Early Access) Review — Temtem Used Substitute… But it Failed!
Temtem aims to set itself aside from Pokemon as a solid monster collecting game in its own right. For the most part, it succeeds.
Temtem‘s initial reveal about a year ago followed a perfect storm of Game Freak, the Pokemon Company, and Nintendo angering Pokemon fans for a number of reasons. From overanalyzing tree textures to complaining about the exclusion of the National Pokedex in the latest entries in the series, fans were fed up. Temtem, a game that aims to emulate and capture a lot of what makes Pokemon so great comes along with a nice art style and the promise of being an MMO on top of that was announced. It garnered a decent amount of attention from alienated fans.
Temtem‘s greatest allure is that it offers all the gameplay elements that a core Pokemon game would have, just without the Pokemon. That’s a gargantuan task for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it’s a new IP trying to capture the inherently charming and nostalgic aesthetic of Pokemon. Plus, it’s trying to create a seamless MMO with entirely new creatures and a distinct battle system. For every risk and change the game takes, more succeed than fail. However, in removing some of gaming’s most iconic and beloved creatures, you lose a lot of that Pokemon charm.
In standard Pokemon form, you’re tasked with traveling throughout the world, battling and leveling up your party of Temtems, and becoming the best ‘tamer’ you can be. You have a starter, a rival, and an encyclopedic database of all the creatures you encounter. As you progress, you’ll encounter multiple boss-like tamers who rely on one or two types of Temtem that you have to overcome to move on. Really, expect to find just about everything you could expect from the creature-collector template.
While the framework is largely the same, as it turns out, removing some of gaming’s most beloved and iconic characters and having someone else write it serves to make the game itself less charming and enjoyable. In fact, I’d never thought twice about writing in a Pokemon game until I spent a few hours with Temtem.
There’s a specifically naive, goofy sensibility to how JRPGs, especially Pokemon games, are written. Temtem does not share that same trait. While not necessarily bad, a lot of the dialogue was missing the childlike wonder and naivete that helps make Pokemon so magical. I did really appreciate the amount of agency Temtem gives you in the dialogue department, but because the writing was lackluster, it didn’t really end up mattering that much. Instead, I found myself never really caring what options I chose. In fact, I found myself using the skip feature for a lot of the dialogue when I knew it’d all end in a battle anyway.
Writing aside, the game’s more soft, pastel art style and understated music has such a pleasant vibe. Aside from a few specific themes and locations, most of Temtem’s art and environments were incredibly relaxing. That soft feeling extends to the Temtems themselves, in fact.
As a whole, the (admittedly small) roster of Temtems, much like any generation of new Pokemon has its ups and its downs. In fact, if someone had blurry footage of this game running on a Switch and put it on the internet, I have a feeling most people would assume it was a Pokemon game.
That said, the MMO-like UI with horribly small text and no discernible options to change it sticks out like a sore thumb. Aside from that, the only thing that would instantly tip off most Pokemon fans is the battle system. The system takes the format in several really interesting directions to differentiate it from the games that inspired it. The biggest change to the battle system is that each creature has a stamina bar that each of their moves draws from. This is a big change from using PP (Power Points) for each move to indicate how many times it can be used.
To make things interesting, when the Temtem exhausts their stamina meter, they dip into their HP. To balance this out, stamina regenerates every turn. It’s probably the most compelling and distinctive addition to the battle system. It encourages more proactive switching and makes passing on a turn or using a weaker move viable strategies.
The other nifty addition to the battle system starts the moment you have two or more Temtems in your party. From then on, just about every fight is a double battle, if not at least a 2-on-1 battle. Because of this, the game takes the opportunity to introduce specific moves that, when used with a Temtem of a specific type on the field, will have improved properties. While this isn’t something that’s totally new to the genre, Temtem uses it the most frequently. In fact, because of the nature of the battle system, I wish it had been implemented more.
That’s partially because the move pool is just too small and emphasizes moves that just don’t feel that weighty. Part of that is because some moves require the Tem to be in battle for a turn or two before they can actually use it. Normally, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, especially since you will usually be in control of two Temtems at a time. However, the stamina system and the fact that the game encourages more frequent switching are directly at odds with any mechanics that require you to wait for a move to be available.
Of course, it’s not really a monster collecting game if the battle system doesn’t feature complex rock-paper-scissors type-based matchups. Temtem certainly has that on lock. While not every type is the same, and some types are totally new, most matchups work in a predictable way. That said, people coming from Pokemon might want to have a type matchup chart at the ready just in case. Some matchups, like Temtem’s equivalents to fighting and normal types, don’t function the same way at all. While that’s not necessarily a problem, it could confuse people like me who’ve spent over half their lives learning Pokemon type matchups.
Unfortunately, sometimes nailing the right match-up doesn’t feel as satisfying as it does in Pokemon. To make matters worse, you will encounter countless sections in the game that feature level gaps that slow progression to a grind-y halt.
Now, I know this is something that’s in most Pokemon games, especially the earlier ones, but Temtem handles it really, really badly. The example that sticks out in my head the most is when I was stuck on a dojo, Temtem’s gym equivalent. I had to either bash my head against the dojo leader or grind against wild Tems that were half the level of the lowest member of my party.
It took hours of slow, ungratifying grinding against under-leveled enemies to get my team up to snuff before I could eke out a win. This was made even more frustrating by the fact that most of my team was a higher level than most of this leader’s team. However, because they never learned many strong, reliable moves, I found myself decently over-leveled after I won.
As a game in early access, Temtem shows a lot of really interesting, innovative departures from the Pokemon gold-standard. That said, there are also an almost equal amount of missteps that can hopefully be fixed before the game’s out of early access.
In some ways, my time with Temtem brought me back to being a kid discovering Pokemon for the first time, wholly unaware of the matchups or what the creatures were. But with that comes a sense of uncertainty and confusion from some of the differences.
If you’re a lapsed or disgruntled Pokemon fan or just someone who’s played every Pokemon game looking for something similar, Temtem will provide you with the gameplay and design that you need to scratch that Pokemon itch. Just don’t expect it to quite live up to the magical, childlike charm.
Editor’s Note: TemTem is still in early access and as such, we’ll be updating this review in the future as the game continues to grow.