Temtem is the “Evolution” That Pokemon Sword and Shield Wasn’t
Temtem might be heavily inspired by Pokemon, but it builds on the concept so strongly that it deserves merit in its own right.
Temtem is a lot like Pokemon. Let’s get that out in the open right away. Developer Crema has described Temtem as “a massively multiplayer creature-collection adventure inspired by Pokemon” on their Steam page. Their inspirations are open and unabashed. Many will look at this and simply dismiss it as a Pokemon clone, or an ascended fangame. But I feel that writing Temtem off so quickly is disingenuous; this is clearly a passion project that they have worked very hard on to differentiate it. The inspirations are worn openly on their sleeve, but Crema has done the legwork. It’s immensely rare that I’ve seen a game of such polished quality this early in the development phase.
So with that preamble out of the way, what is Temtem actually? What makes it stand out compared to Pokemon? Let’s dive in.
What? Your Turn-Based Combat is Evolving!
You start your adventure in Temtem with a bit of light plot and backstory. You’re leaving your hometown to go attend school in the next town over, focused primarily on study and battle of Temtem. After a brief farewell with a selection of NPCs, you make a quick detour to the home of a local Temtem professor, who grants you one of three Temtem to begin your adventure with. You’ll have a quick introductory battle with your plucky rival, wherein you easily best h-
Wait. No. He actually one-shots you immediately using a rare and powerful type of Temtem that has type advantage on all three starters. Huh. That’s new! Either way, with this crushing defeat under your belt, the Professor grants you a second Temtem: a toucan-inspired bird named Tuwai.
Sidenote: I am contractually obligated by DualShocker’s EiC to insist that Tuwai should have been named Toucanslam.
With these two Temtem, you begin your journey proper. Though your immediate goal is to reach the next town and attend classes, there’s nonetheless an encounter with the first Dojo leader along the way. There’s eight of these, and besting the trainers at all of them would surely make you a master of Temtem. As you progress, you’ll encounter an evil organization named Clan Belsoto that you need to stop from achieving their unsavory aims. All the while, you explore the world, find new creatures to battle or capture, defeat all other Temtem tamers in your way… pretty standard stuff for the genre, and it probably sounds a lot like a Pokemon game by now.
But the details are what Temtem excels at. Almost immediately, trying to sink into the old habits of Pokemon will be rebuffed with mechanical alterations and twists. Even from the outset, battles will require strategy and careful consideration. Sure, the average wild Tateru or Pigepic is unlikely to be too threatening, but they’re not going to roll over and die for you either. Allow me to list a few critical systems that allow Temtem to stand out from genre conventions.
- Double Battles. You’re granted a second Temtem immediately, and all battles allow you to field two creatures. You might find solo Temtem in the wild or on the occasional tamer, but you can always wield two. This immediately starts affecting strategy, and that’ll become more apparent very quickly.
- Moves Require Stamina. Pokemon fans are used to using a set move until it runs out of PP and can’t be used. Temtem instead sees a general Stamina bar for each creature, which starts at full and replenishes a little each turn. As long as you have Stamina to use the move, there’s no problem. If you don’t have the Stamina, you can still use the move, but the excess Stamina will draw from your health and cause your creature to miss the next turn. You also have the option to wait a turn without using a move, if you so wish.
- Some Moves Have Cooldowns. In addition to Stamina, some moves cannot be used until the Temtem has been active for a set amount of turns. They then go on cooldown after use for a similar set of turns. This is usually combined with Stamina in some way; stronger moves might have a cooldown for less stamina usage, or else they have a high stamina cost but can be used immediately.
- Standardized and Stackable Status Effects. If you inflict Poison or Sleep on an enemy, it will always last a set amount of turns. Damage and debuffs are consistent. Also, you can inflict multiple status effects at once; a Temtem can be affected by two at once, and newer effects will overwrite the oldest one.
- Synergy Effects. Certain moves will receive boosts or additional effects based on what kind of Temtem their partner is. My Mental starter Houchic has a move called Energy Manipulation that inflicts damage and the Exhaust status. If the partner Temtem is of a nature type, that damage and status duration is increased. Once again, planning and team composition become more important.
- No RNG. Every move has perfect accuracy! Every status effect will land! There are no critical hits! When you use a move or engage in a turn, you can guarantee that it’s going to impact, unless otherwise canceled out by an enemy effect (or your Temtem is defeated before it’s used).
This is only a selection of adjustments and considerations that Temtem employs to spice up the somewhat old turn-based, menu-driven combat of the genre. And this is only a few of the critical differences because there are definitely more; Temtem traits, stat training, individual stat values amongst the species, breeding, and so on. There’s a wealth of combat options under the hood for the clever tamer to employ.
None of this would count for anything if there was no way to utilize it, though. Pokemon has a wealth of options with movesets, but it adequately doesn’t factor into the game until you start playing competitively. Picking a single Pokemon and sweeping your way to the endgame isn’t just a viable strategy… it’s the ideal one. Temtem bucks that trend by offering more of a challenge even in the basic tamer battle.
Attempting to blast your way through with strong moves? Health pools tend to be larger in Temtem, so you’ll get a significant advantage but then drain your stamina and be left vulnerable for a time. Otherwise, your moves might be locked by cooldowns, so it’s best to utilize status effects or soften them with lighter attacks. Type advantages and disadvantages remain — there are 12 different types in Temtem, reminiscent of Pokemon but condensed somewhat — and can stack up to 4x. Still, I’ve found even these don’t guarantee a one-shot at similar levels. Enemy tamers and wild Temtem have some semblance of strategy that they employ, and are leveled up in a way that kept them a fair challenge without stopping to explore or grind.
Even with all these changes, many long-accepted systems remain in place. Using a move that’s the same type as your Temtem grants it a damage bonus. Moves are split into physical and special categories, with a different defense stat tied to each. Temtem with higher speeds will move first, though moves have a priority system that can interrupt that if they’re fast/slow enough. Temtem will evolve into stronger forms after a time; evolution is based on the levels they’ve gained since joining you, however, rather than always at a specific threshold. It goes on and on.
Uncertain of what to expect when going into the game, I quickly found myself given a wealth of options and considerations for battles that immediately enticed my tactical mind. I had to weigh my choices, make good use of items, plan my moves… I was engaged with the system from the outset. The new creatures, moves, evolved forms, types, synergies… all of it made for a far more compelling battle system than I had expected. Persona 5 is a stand out example of how to make actions matter in a turn-based RPG, and now Temtem is promising to do similarly for monster collecting games.
Now, it’d be reasonably easy to get absolutely flooded by information given all the elements at play here. Thankfully, Temtem takes a few commendable steps in how it presents the details you need. First, it provides clear and well-designed tutorials as the game unfolds. They’re paced well instead of dumping exposition on you all at once, plus they’re also completely optional if you already are familiar with the systems. Further information is just a mouseover away (or hover if you’re using a controller), so it need not bog down the screen unless you need it.
Once you’ve gotten past the initial steps and are actively seeking out the information, though, Temtem has you covered. Much of the advanced or esoteric information that is unclear in a lot of games are readily accessible here. Beyond just your levels and stats, you can see every move your Temtem has learned (and you can swap them out between battles). You can see the individual stats that your Temtem has, how much stat training points it has accrued, the cooldown and synergies of moves, and so on. Accessing the Tempedia, you can also quickly cycle through some of the Temtem’s animations, as well as read the traits they can get and the stat Training Value it gives on defeat. It’s all just a click or two away when you need it.
Perhaps the only piece of information I couldn’t find at the drop of a hat was a type matchup chart, but hopefully Crema will include that in later versions.
Speaking of type matchups, the target will be marked as gold or red for effective or ineffective type matches in battles… but only if you’ve got a member of that evolutionary line in your party. It’s a decent balance between providing unknown information in combat and encouraging the player to learn and remember.
It’s incredible to consider just how well polished and presentable Temtem is. Playing for about a dozen hours, I didn’t even come close to exhausting the content on offer. I took my time exploring and tend to be quite methodical, but there’s a tremendous amount of content already good to go. The art style and graphical design is strong, consistent, and pleasant to look at. Under the hood, the systems are functional and sophisticated, yet I rarely ran into any kind of performance issue or a bug. Temtem’s quality would stand out compared to some full-priced triple-A releases at launch, and yet it’s only in a closed technical alpha.
This is all the more impressive when you consider something I’ve yet to speak about: this is a massively multiplayer online game.
From the very outset, I was seeing other players present in the world. There was a functional chat that I could jump into. A slew of multiplayer functionality including full co-op play, casual or competitive battling, trading… that’s all present and correct, even at this early state. Shout-outs to JoCat and Skill Up, who I saw running around in-game. Temtem is still built with the notion that you can play solo just fine and not have to interact with anyone else, but the fact that it all just worked so seamlessly means anyone encouraged to interact won’t have to try too hard.
Aged Up For the Pokemon Veteran
I honestly wasn’t sure how I felt about Temtem when going into the alpha. I’ve had my eye on it for long enough that I quickly raised my hand at the opportunity to preview it. Nonetheless, I had really been struggling to find the spark in Pokemon style games for a while and wasn’t sure that this would resonate any better with me. Not only did Temtem exceed my expectations in pretty much every regard, but it also helped me realize what I failed to feel in Pokemon for some time now: respect for the series veteran.
I’m an old hand among the video game playing crowd by now. Pokemon Red was far from the first game I ever played, but it was one of the first I ever specifically sought out. I played it until I was broke from spending so much on AA batteries for my Game Boy. It’s a cherished memory and one of the major stepping stones that set me on my games player/writer path. From then on, I would usually pick up and play any new mainline Pokemon releases.
And yet… with every passing generation of Pokemon, I approached it with increasingly less enthusiasm.
I was 10-years-old when I played Gen 1. I’m now in my 30s, and I have played through this song and dance so many times. I know what to expect, I know the strategies, I know the formula. But rather than accept that this might be a possibility and provide difficulty options or challenge, Pokemon simply stays the course. Sure, there’s a universal appeal to Pokemon at its heart, but it really struggles to grasp me beyond this. Every new game feels like it’s aimed at 10-year-old Kris, never reaching beyond. Tentative steps towards something more meaningful or improved are occasionally taken, but they’re rarely committed to and often are accompanied by multiple steps backward.
It’s easier than ever to power level your team to the point of devastating all opponents. Trainers rarely have a full lineup of six Pokemon. The enemy levels always feel lower than necessary to be a threat. There’s little that amounts to strategy or careful planning beyond “spam type effective move to easy victory.” Hell, sometimes even choosing type effective moves is overkill. All of this could be assuaged by a more exciting plot, but they remain incredibly basic and child-friendly. Instead, I just gather my team of favorite designs and power on through.
I held out hope that Sword and Shield would take steps to address this, but quite frankly? They didn’t. The overall negativity surrounding Dexit didn’t help matters, either. So after careful consideration, I didn’t buy them. Instead, I went back and did a Nuzlocke run of Heart Gold, having a very merry time in the process. That is very likely where my experience with the mainline Pokemon will end. Despite my love for these cute creatures, and my multiple decade connection to them, I just find nothing to draw me in anymore that I cannot get with the games I already own. It’s Mystery Dungeon or nothing for me, most likely.
Nonetheless, this was the state of mind that I approached Temtem with. Coupled with my background and the robust mechanical systems on display, I walked away with a smile on my face. Temtem is a game made by people who clearly respect Pokemon, but more than that: they respect the long-time Pokemon veteran who wants to see the series grow into something more. In this one closed alpha of an indie developer, I have experienced more development of the Pokemon formula than I have in the better part of 20 years of Game Freak’s games.
Crema has their finger firmly on the pulse of the jaded Pokemon fan. Temtem has enough options and complexity to appeal even to those who have Caught ‘Em All before. But even with that in mind, it’s far from unapproachable to newcomers or younger audiences. I genuinely think there is something for everyone here, and I cannot wait to see how it develops from this point forward.
Temtem will be available on Steam Early Access from January 21st, with console releases planned once the Early Access period ends. There will be a handful of server stress tests before this; you can find a full list of dates and times on the Steam page. I’ve gone from a curious bystander to an eager follower in just a dozen hours of playtime, so there’s little doubt I’ll be in-game somewhere.