Stuck Inside With: Temtem

The battling in Temtem is more tactical. Provided by Sean Morrison

I stopped thinking of Temtem as a Pokémon clone when I got to make the protagonist tell a fellow tamer that he would kick their a**.

Temtem, a "massively multiplayer creature-collection adventure" according to the game's Steam page, has the main trapping of Pokémon: You catch monsters and battle with them to try to become the best trainer (or tamer, in Temtem) in the world. Other than that, though, the games bear little resemblance, from their tone to their aesthetics and, well, just about everything else.

I bought Temtem when it went into Early Access on Steam in January 2020, and the game recently released its first major content addition with a second planned for Fall 2020. If it helps, think of the game as grown-up Pokémon. There's cursing. There's a war going on. There's a group of people who are against capturing Tems entirely who make you confront what amounts to at the very least animal cruelty.

There are stakes and allusions to death and, despite it all, a crass and snarky undertone that makes Temtem's vibrant world an entirely different thing than Nintendo's decades-old, happy-go-lucky creation. It's made by a group pretty far departed from the gaming giant that's brought us some of the biggest releases and consoles on the planet, too: Temtem's developer, Crema, is composed of about two dozen staffers that started as a mobile game creator.

The Crema crew did draw inspiration from Pokémon, but it also looked at how it could better the creature-collection model that Game Freak has cornered the market on. How could they change the animal types (typing, for short)? How could they adjust battle formats? What features caused the most frustration for players, and what were they yearning for that Nintendo just couldn't provide?

Temtem answers some of those questions, and its developer is working on addressing others with remarkable transparency. Crema's social media presence, ongoing updates on patch notes and community outreach work in the Temtem Discord channel sets an example the rest of the game dev industry should aspire to. This is a small development team with a killer idea that is still grappling with how to capture a bigger audience, even after an Early Access launch that saw nearly 22,000 people on average try out the game.

Here's what else you can expect from the islands of the Airborne Archipelago if you decide to give Temtem a try.

The kid gloves are off

Temtem's colorful world and animation style might make it look like the game is easygoing. Don't let the dialogue quips and adorable Tems fool you, though: Temtem battles are tougher -- much tougher -- than anything you'd see in Pokémon.

The typing in Temtem is different from that of the game it pays homage to, with some slight similarities such as electric types hurting water Tems more, water besting fire, etc. But unlike Pokémon, those type advantages and weaknesses and an understanding of them are vital. You don't often one-hit-KO anything you come across in Temtem, especially enemy tamers. Battles actually require some tactical thinking, and by design, a lot of the guesswork is taken out to further reward people that focus on typing matchups.

Much to the delight of competitive Pokémon enthusiasts, critical hits don't exist in Temtem. Making an opponent flinch or other percentage-chance mechanics are out the door, too, and the ability to spam super-powerful attacks goes out the door thanks to Temtem's exhaust mechanic; if your Tem runs out of stamina, it can't act on the next turn, and depending on how much your monster overexerted itself, it can take considerable damage too.

Dojos, Temtem's answer to Pokémon's gyms, are a sly nod to Nintendo's series that also blow the mechanics and difficulty of Pokémon out of the water. Dojos can take upward of half an hour, and the puzzles and tamers within can be a source of frustration that leads to that nice bit of catharsis as you finally finish off the Dojo leader's final Tem.

Pokémon players have been creating ways to artificially inflate the difficulty of the games for years, and now they have a game where that's nowhere near necessary. If you're looking for a challenging road to being the very best, like no one ever was, then Temtem is worth a try.

An online Archipelago

Temtem is a perpetually online experience, so you see tamers running around with their Tems all the time and can interact with those people via the newly added global, local and trade chat functions.

Pokémon lifers have pined for these features, too, and got a taste of them in Pokémon Sword and Shield, but Temtem being on PC really opens up the ability to work with, or against, other players.

Looking for a particular Tem? Post about it in the trade chat, and you'll likely get a hit within minutes. Trying to test out a new lineup? Shoot a message into global chat and see if someone wants to battle. The applications of the chat feature, which just launched in the most recent addition to the game, are pretty promising going forward as well.

The ability to see other tamers wandering around can be a source of frustration for the more jealous among us (AKA me). Luma Temtem, which are Temtem's answer to the ultra-rare Shiny Pokémon, are about the most gorgeous and well-designed things in this game, and you will see dozens of them every time you walk through a populated area. I don't fault anyone for flexing given how long the Luma catching grind can be, but a bit of my soul is chipped away every time I see someone ride by on a golden water horse.

Oh, that's a thing, too. You can ride on some of the Tems, and your lead Tem actually keeps up with you when they follow you. Your move, Game Freak.

A strong story

Go ahead and keep your happy endings, Pokémon trainers. I'll have what Temtem's having.

OK, true, I have no idea how Temtem will end, but I do know that the serious story strokes they've made, combined with deadpan humor and fountains of sarcasm, set up for a memorable storyline that strikes the tough balance between giving the story purpose and making it fun.

Clan Belsoto, Temtem's version of Team Rocket, is everything Giovanni hoped his Pokémon gang would be. The Belsoto are at once more menacing and dynamic; they have started a war, taken prisoners, conducted brutal genetic experiments on Temtem to build stronger monsters and quite literally shoot you out of the sky in an effort to kill you at one point.

You survive. You tell Belsoto grunts they are poop. You stop injustices. It's a great time, and it's made meaningful because the stakes presented by the seriousness of Clan Belsoto's actions are played off of so well by the game's dialogue and the optional arrogant approach you can take to beating these bad guys down.

Improvise, adapt, Temtem Up

The biggest blessing and curse for the Pokémon brand is the 25 years of pedigree that the series bears.

On one hand, Pokémon is going to sell almost regardless of format or quality. On the other, The Pokémon Company and Game Freak can't take many bold strokes to reinvent the mainline game series because so much of what Pokémon is now has been entrenched in players and the in-game universe for so long.

Pokémon protagonists aren't going to start speaking in the Crown Tundra expansion for Sword and Shield, let alone cursing. Things like flinching, percentage status condition effects, friendship with Pokémon affecting non-player vs. player battles -- none of that can really change now. Did you see how much flak the developers caught, and are continuing to see daily, for trimming the list of available Pokémon for Sword and Shield? This is a fan base that's inextricably tied to its past, and the only thing that will make most of them happy is the status quo.

Temtem, on the other hand, has more than two decades of precedent to look at and all the room in the world to adjust. Crema's track record since Early Access launch shows the developer to be receptive to feedback and willing to make changes on the fly, even if they don't fit with the game's roadmap. Heck, the fact that Temtem even has a roadmap, and one that Crema openly admits it might not be able to stick to entirely, shows you the quality of development team behind this game.

By no means is Temtem going to become the next Pokémon. There are too many outlying factors in play there, one of them being that Pokémon already exists. But for people who want something tougher, something smarter, something a bit more gruff and a lot more adaptable, Temtem will be a fulfilling experience, one that draws on nostalgia while showing us something entirely new.