What is it? A monster-taming RPG in the vein of Pokémon with a bustling shared online world.
Expect to pay: $45/£40
Release date: September 6, 2022
Publisher: Humble Games
Reviewed on: Windows 11, Nvidia 2080 Ti, Intel i9-9900k @ 4.9ghz, 32gb RAM
Multiplayer? Yes (cross-platform always-on multiplayer, co-op and PvP)
Link: Official site
Let's not beat around the long grass here: Temtem is a Pokémon clone by design. Small Spanish studio Crema aimed to make something immediately familiar and accessible to fans of Nintendo's monster-collecting JRPG series, while leaving room for some bold new ideas of their own. Since the developers assume you already know your pidgeys from your pikachus, I will too, making it easier to break down what Temtem does differently, for better or worse.
For starters, Temtem is an MMO. Kinda. You won't be stepping on other's toes while exploring as interaction with other players is limited to chat, emoting and challenging to battles, but the overworld is a bustling place filled with players and their pets. While geared for solo play, the entire story can be played cooperatively with a friend, and the endgame offers plenty of opportunity for groups to go dungeon-crawling together.
This makes Temtem's world of floating islands orbiting a magical pseudo-sun a lively place. The trade-off for this persistent shared world is monetization. On top of the sticker price, there's premium currency that can be spent on cosmetic goodies, or a seasonal battle pass that doles out dress-up items over time. Fortunately, money won't buy you success—for that, you'll have to invest time, effort and a lot of memorizing damage type charts.
I want to be the very best
Temtem's biggest divergence from Pokémon is its more complex combat, sitting between Pokémon's kid-friendly design and Shin Megami Tensei's hardcore dungeon-crawling. Temtem's battles against NPC tamers are frequently full 6v6 affairs, both sides deploying two creatures at a time. Between sharp AI and not skimping on enemy levels and stats, it's a surprisingly challenging campaign. For those used to sleepwalking through Pokémon, you might have to sit up and pay attention here.
Multiplayer battles (available via informal challenges in the overworld or level-scaled ranked play) are even more complex. Those familiar with DOTA competitive rules will be familiar with the format. Players bring squads of eight Temtem to the table, and take turns picking five to deploy while also banning two of the opponent's picks. It's an intimidating twist to get used to, but thankfully you can practice for this in singleplayer by challenging defeated Dojo leaders (the equivalent of Pokémon gym leaders) to a simulated competitive match.
Combat in Temtem is more nuanced than Pokémon, too. Temtems have both HP and a steadily recharging stamina pool, which attacks deplete. Lower-level creatures can be run ragged after just one big attack, making overspending easy to do. Any stamina debt will be deducted from that Temtem's health, and they'll not be able to attack next turn—though actions like tagging out and healing through items are allowed during this cooldown period, making it a viable tactical choice. Also 'Hold Techniques' are powerful attacks that don't become selectable until a Temtem has been in combat for several turns, further complicating things.
Never tell me the oddish
What Temtem removes from Pokémon is also interesting. Capture chances aside, there are no dice-rolls during combat. No critical hits, and status effects always stick. Everything is deterministic, but with ways to fudge the numbers. Every skill has a speed multiplier, letting a slow creature get in a quick poke against a faster creature with a heavier attack. Strategy plays a key role from the start, and while grinding to a higher level can work, playing smart is almost always better than brute force.
Between complex combat, 2v2 battles, 12 damage types (imagine playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with two hands and 12 different options), and further wrinkles like being able to change your Temtem's skill loadouts at any point outside of battle, Temtem is an almost intimidatingly involved game. As someone who lost interest in Pokémon early, that's exactly what I needed. On almost every mechanical level (aside from the number of creatures—there's only 164 at present), this is Pokémon: Advanced Edition. Familiar, yet satisfyingly complex.
Temtem used Charm! It's not very effective
Objectively, Temtem is an extremely well-tuned take on the genre. Subjectively, its aesthetics and world don't really do it for me. While your mileage may vary, many of the creature designs feel oddly generic, lacking the simple charm of Pokémon or the wild childish imagination of Digimon. I'd describe many of them as overly angular, stylized animals, and a lot of their names also have extremely poor mouthfeel. I understand that combining 'squirrel' and 'punch' makes sense for a brawny fighting rodent, but a skunch sounds more like a disease I'd rather avoid catching.
Similarly, the game's human cast (and most of their dialogue) falls a little short of Nintendo's punny charm, despite the occasional gag getting a chuckle out of me. The villains (the aristocratic Clan Belsoto) aren't a patch on Team Rocket either. There's a good range of costumes and character customization options for the player-characters and NPCs, but the basic character models feel a little more interchangeable than they should be. Temtem's world sometimes feels like it's populated by the same six people (masculine and feminine models for kids, teens/adults and elders) rapidly switching outfits to fit each region's role.
Still, while the creature and character art doesn't set my imagination alight, it's a fine-looking game on a technical level. Creatures are well animated, and while I wish there was an option to fast-forward battles, bigger attacks are often satisfying barrages of polygon and particle effects. The game also feels more at home on PC than consoles. Despite multiplayer being fully cross-platform, the mouse-and-keyboard controls felt best to me, with some nice quality-of-life features like being able to click and drag my squad composition around.
While I would have appreciated a few more in-game reference pieces (like a hotkey to bring up the dizzying damage-type matrix), Temtem puts most of the key info in sight, although players that commit everything to heart will have the advantage. If you want to be the very best, you'll have to learn them all. Even falling a little short in terms of charm, and with the battle pass feeling slightly out-of-place, Temtem is easy to recommend to fans of Pokémon wanting something a little tougher and meatier while still feeling familiar.