Fans of Nintendo and Game Freak’s Pokémon franchise may have already heard of Temtem, a critter-catching game developed by a Spanish studio called Crema.
Although Temtem it is not officially affiliated with the Pokémon brand, the influence of Game Freak’s work is plain to see from the moment you load up the game. Although Temtem is an MMO (meaning you can see other players in the overworld, and you can trade/battle with them too), that core feeling of a traditional Pokémon RPG is baked into the whole experience.
Although it’s not officially out yet, if you’ve got the right gear, you could boot up this game right now: an early access version of Temtem has been live on Steam since January 2020, and a PS5 version launched in December 2020. Further releases on Nintendo Switch and Xbox Series X/S are expected to follow soon.
But is Temtem worth playing? And is it really, as one colleague told me, “Pokémon on acid”? We played the first few hours of the game to bring you some thoughts and to try and answer those questions...
Time for trouble, and make it double!
Gotta catch them all (together)
When you first start playing Temtem, you might feel like you’ve picked up a knockoff Pokémon game and nothing more. To start with, the set-up feels so familiar that you’ll be wondering why Nintendo’s lawyers haven’t gotten involved.
Your character wakes up at home, briefly chats to their mum, and then heads across a small town meet a local intellectual in a lab. You’ll be given a choice of which cute critter you want to claim, before heading out into the world to catch some more of them and try to make a name for yourself through battle.
However, after a few more minutes, you’ll start to notice some differences. You might even see them as upgrades, depending on your point of view. For one thing, pretty much every battle you take part in will be a ‘two on two’ double-battle, which means you have more things to think about and slightly harder challenges to overcome.
Also, in general, there are more trainer-on-trainer battles littered around the world of Temtem than you would have found in Pokémon Sword or Shield. One early task, for example, sees you fighting your way through a building to rescue someone - the sheer number of battles along the way is staggering. If this were a Pokémon game, you wouldn’t expect to be challenged in such a major way straight off the bat.
Life is good, but it could be better...
Expect bright, colourful locales
I wouldn’t call it “Pokémon on acid”, because the changes here are more intelligent than they are random or trippy. But there’s certainly enough freshness to prove that Crema has its own ideas on what a creature-collecting game should be. It’s not just a Pokémon clone, but rather a reimagining of that well-worn formula.
The quality of life improvements are waiting around every corner: for example, early on you’ll get a ‘Temessence Vial’, which serves as a portable Pokémon Centre of sorts, allowing you to heal up your whole squad in one fell swoop (but you can only use it once before you need to pop into a town centre and refill it).
On particularly tough routes, you’ll also find pop-up shops where you can stock up on items and heal your squad. This means that, although the game does get challenging pretty quickly, you won’t need to go all the way back to your last town centre every single time you get into a tight spot.
Also, each attack you want to use has a ‘Stamina’ cost, which means you can’t just spam your most powerful attacks every time you’re in a battle. If your stamina bar runs out, your creature will damage itself, so you’ll want to mix in some items and less-strenuous moves to keep your team safe. And considering that you’ll often be up against two different types of enemies, suddenly there’s quite a lot of strategy to consider during every battle.
A rose by any other name
Battles lean on the similar mechanics you've come to love
All of these changes from the established Pokémon formula are very welcome, especially for players who’ve found the last couple of mainline releases a little too easy for their tastes. However, you can’t hide from the fact that Temtem doesn’t have the rights to use any Pokémon characters, creatures or trademarked words.
A famous saying suggests that a rose by any other name still smells as sweet, but I haven’t yet gotten over the fact that every familiar facet of the Pokémon franchise has been given a new name here because of obvious copyright issues. So you’ll be using TemCards instead of Pokéballs, visiting Temporiums instead of Pokémon Centres, and learning the names of over 100 creatures you’ve never seen before.
This is all surface-level stuff, of course, and it’s better to judge Temtem on its merits rather than wanging on about the familiar branding it doesn’t have. But still, when you strip every existing recognisable thing out of a franchise, you do lose a little bit of what made it great in the first place.
With every new Pokémon game, there’s always a thrill where you see an old-favourite creature or character appear, and we’ve all relished in those sly nods and references to previous games and regions.
When you think about it, though, it’s pretty impressive that Temtem manages to be memorable and enjoyable without any of that old material to lean on. And the pastel-coloured art style they’ve come up with, coupled with some chilled out music in the orchestral score, makes the game feel like its own thing.
Is it worth playing?
Definitely. If you’re a fan of games like this, particularly the Pokémon franchise, Temtem as an experience is well worth your time. And since most of us are in lockdown right now, you may well have enough time on your hands to tackle its 50-odd hours of early access content.
It does take a while to get used to all the renamed things, and I don’t think the creature names/designs are quite as iconic as memorable as the ones that Game Freak keep coming out with, but Crema has done a really impressive job here, presenting a winning manifesto for how a Pokémon-like franchise could evolve.
As well as all the improvements/changes we mentioned earlier, there are also loads of side-missions you can do. These give you more reasons to travel back and forth between different towns than Pokémon games normally do. And there are multiple terrains, too, with rock-climbing and surfing among the activities you can use to unlock new areas. It’s a big, wide world that rewards you for exploring.
All in all, then, this is an admirable new take on what a creature-collecting RPG can be. Rather than phoning their lawyers, perhaps Nintendo could get their chequebook out and try to acquire Crema. Certainly, if they want it, these guys deserve a shot at a fully-branded Pokémon game.