Evolution or revolution?
Rarely are games ever truly original, and they should arguably be judged on their own merits rather than living in the comparative shadows of their forebears. But for CremaGames’ new monster catching and battling adventure, Temtem, to try and review it without mentioning Pokémon would be a hilariously difficult exercise in futility.
If you’re interested in Temtem, it’s almost certainly for one of two reasons: you either love Pokémon and want another, slightly different one; or you want to play Pokémon but don’t own any Nintendo consoles. The good news is that despite it still having a way to go, early impressions suggest that people in both camps are likely to love what Temtem has to offer.
You begin with a comfortingly familiar scenario: a young’un in a small town, you visit a professor’s lab to choose between one of three starter creatures before embarking on a journey to catch ’em all, train ’em up, defeat gym leaders and be the very best (like no one ever was). Rather than rattle through every similarity that Temtem has to its #Nintenspo, I’ll save myself a lot of work by just explaining its differences.
One of the more immediately noticeable of these is the swarm of other Temtem trainers running around. Temtem is an MMO, which means you can talk to, trade with and battle any player you fancy. Arguably the best feature, however, is that you can play through the story cooperatively – and this is where another major difference comes in to facilitate it: most battles are 2v2.
The first few days after Temtem’s Early Access launch have been pretty shaky, particularly in regards to its multiplayer features, so it remains to be seen how good these are in the long term. While it’s exciting to see other trainers going about their business in the wild zones, my curmudgeonly, unsociable side found it a little distracting at other times. It’s already silly how you can wander around NPC houses uninvited (like in Pokémon and many other RPGs) but this is taken to the next level when there are ten others running around a tiny home with names like TheDestroyer and CabbageFan95 floating over their heads.
Getting into the real meat of how Temtem is to play, what’s there is a remarkably solid framework so far. Battles are a classic rock-paper-scissors affair based on 12 elements, with some familiar ones like fire and water, and some not so familiar like crystal and digital. There are some neat ideas mixing up otherwise traditional mechanics, like a regenerating stamina bar replacing PP, and synergy bonuses from combining certain types of Temtem as allies.
But a framework it very much is at this stage. There are only around half of the Temtem currently in the game, which creates a noticeable repetition to wild encounters. Many areas of the world are also closed off with signs saying “Work In Progress,” an amusingly self-aware nod to how the game is still in development. This is Early Access, after all.
CremaGames have still evidently tried to make a strong first impression, however, with rock-solid production values. It’s a great-looking game, its pastel, cartoony aesthetic giving it a friendly and charming feel. Perhaps even more crucially, the creature design is spot-on, with a cute roster comprised of whimsical takes on real-world animals and some not-so-real animals. Even the soundtrack is enjoyable to listen to, albeit with part of it sounding suspiciously like Zelda’s Hyrule Field theme tune to my ears (wrong Nintendo franchise, CremaGames!).
Unsurprisingly, some of the more complex and delicately balanced aspects still need work. Breeding is time-consuming and a little punishing as of this time of writing, with limits to a Temtem’s fertility, and the costs having skyrocketed in a recent update. Compounding this is how there are currently few effective ways to make money, including trainer battle winnings and a paltry reward for releasing caught Temtem.
But it bodes well that my biggest issue with Temtem right now is that I just want more of it. More Temtem, more places to explore, more things to do. Server issues aside, I don’t think its Early Access release could have gone much better. It sounds unbelievable to say, but after 24 years of domination I think Pokémon might finally have its first true rival.
[Reviewed on PC]
James loves a deep action-adventure game, RPG or Metroidvania. He can often be found in The Indie Game Website’s review section casting his critical eye over the latest indie games.