Temtem review: a Pokemon-like that listens to what fans wantA new champion
Temtem’s inspiration has always been clear. We didn’t beat around the bush when it entered early access back in 2020 - Cian Maher called it the best Pokemon game in years - and I won’t beat around the bush now. It’s still the best Pokemon game in years. It borrows so much from Nintendo's behemoth, but it also takes some much-needed lessons that Game Freak fails to recognise, taking the formula to its highest evolution yet.
Temtem’s creature catching will feel immediately familiar to anyone who’s even dabbled in Pokemon over the years. You play as a child who leaves their home to go on a grand adventure through the Airborne Archipelago. Along the way, you’ll catch critters, battle numerous gym lead - sorry, dojo masters - and fend off a bad organisation named Clan Belsoto, a bunch of Toxic-toting meanies. Been there, done that. Lots of times. The story mostly treads old ground, so don't expect much from the plot. However, there are lots of small yet substantial tweaks that elevate Temtem beyond a mere imitation. It’s a step forward; an improved iteration of the genre that actually listens to the fan demands that the Pokemon Company have swatted away over the years. That includes tougher battles, a more tactical battle system, an improved online experience, and now a hefty endgame that just arrived with its full launch out of early access.
There’s a long journey ahead before you arrive at the new endgame island, though. You start in the town of Zadar, where you make your character before gaining your first Temtem. One of the options allows you to pick your pronouns, including a they/them option, which I really appreciate. You can’t select multiple options, so it doesn’t allow he/they, for example, but being able to select non-binary pronouns immediately makes Temtem feel more welcoming. Pokemon was a small way for me to experiment with gender identity when I was young, as I'd often pick the female character if it felt more natural. I've spent a lot of time figuring that out since, and Temtem’s pronoun choices let me pick the option that feels the most me. In general, Temtem's world feels really inclusive of identity, with the rival character also identifying as non-binary, which makes it a lovely place to explore.
After making your avatar, you quickly get handed your first two Temtem and are thrust into battles before you have a chance to breathe. It’s a welcome change of pace from the tedious tutorials that have plagued Pokemon since its 3DS days, and immediately introduces you to one of Temtem’s biggest changes. Dual battles are standard in the Airborne Archipelago, which makes fights more tactical than Pokemon’s one-on-one slugfests. You can use support moves to buff your second Temtem on the field, or equip moves that synergise when used alongside another Temtem of a certain type to deal increased damage or more lengthy status effects. That can also prove punishing if your opponent starts with a type advantage, so you’ll need to prep your team before entering into a fight. Not every battle is going to make you struggle, but the ones that do are far more memorable and force you to consider team composition to win.
If you haven’t come prepared, fights can get scrappy. Your Temtem each have an amount of stamina that grows as they level up, and each move has a stamina cost. You pay stamina to use moves, and you regain a small amount of stamina each turn. If you want to deal a big blow to end the match, you can use a high cost move that would push your stamina bar below zero, but it’ll also drain some of your health. This could knock out your Temtem, which is either a calculated cost to win the battle or an unexpected side effect for those who aren’t paying attention. If you’re struggling to get ahead, the option to sacrifice your Temtem to use some of your big moves again adds more tension to these already tough battles. Temtem also streamlines the experience by making stamina reset after each fight, so you can go all out in every battle and use your biggest, flashiest moves to secure the win.
At key moments in the story, that difficulty ramps up. Temtem's Dojos are far more punishing than standard Pokemon gyms, and are more comparable to ROM hacks such as Storm Silver and Sacred Gold, or PokeMMO. Dojo Masters have a full team of six powerful Temtem, and they also offer competitive rematches against tougher teams every week for rewards. With Temtem’s full launch out of early access, Dojo Master rematches are just the tip of the endgame iceberg. It now has a wealth of endgame activities spread across a new island, with competitive battles demanding mastery and even a roguelite tower that you can climb with a new team of critters. Those who loved Emerald for its Battle Frontier will feel right at home here, and it finally gives Temtem that replayable MMO experience that you could revisit for years to come.
Many of those tough battles are withheld until after the story, though, and there's a lot to slog through along the way. In-between Dojo battles, Temtem has a lot of tedious backtracking for quests, which forces you to churn through wild Tems. That's where the adherence to its inspiration makes Temtem falter, as it so desperately wants to be Pokemon on PC that it carries across almost every element, for better or worse. Wild Temtem pop up constantly as you run around in tall grass, but they quickly became a chore. This problem only gets worse when you realise each island is filled with the same small group of Temtem. Sure, Platypet is cute, but fighting one for the hundredth time in Deniz makes me wish it’d Platy-piss off. You can eventually buy scents, an item that lets you repel wild battles, to alleviate this problem, but I'd already been subjected to hours of wild battles while saving to afford them. They've always been a chore in mainline Pokemon games, and it’s a tie that Temtem would’ve been better to sever.
The wild battles would likely feel more exciting if I was constantly pushed into new areas, but Temtem's an MMO that evolved through early access. That means a lot of quests send you back into areas you've already explored, assumedly because they were there to fill time while waiting for more islands to arrive in subsequent updates. A lot of these quests consist of delivering items or messages back and forth, and they're just another chore to add to the list.
Fortunately, the MMO-ness isn't all bad. The actual online implementation sets a standard for the genre that Pokemon hasn’t even started to explore. You’ll see other tamers running around and battling, and you can stop to have casual or competitive duels with those around you. If you’re hoping to fill the Tempedia, you can start trades or head to an auction house, where you can bid on other players’ Temtem with Pansuns (the currency of the Archipelago). It’s all snappy and responsive, and the Archipelago is best when filled with players. I imagine it will be busiest at launch, though, so if you want to see it thriving then make sure to hop in this week. As with any online game, the player base could drop off and hop onto the next thing within days.
That’s where I begin to question Temtem. It’s a fantastic experience poised to elevate the creature-catching formula, but it’s best when it’s busy. To stick around long-term, I'd like to see new content - new Temtem, new islands, and more to keep exploring in years to come. However, Crema have stated that those are unlikely, with the current post-launch plans consisting of the final mythical, an Arcade Bar, and the Nuzlocke mode which was funded during the Kickstarter. Launching out of early access has always been the goal for Temtem, but this is a multiplayer world that I want to spend longer in. Without new creatures to use and new lands to explore, I wonder how long both the PvP and PvE communities will stay engaged. And, since Temtem is always online (you'll need an internet connection to play and offline is not an option), I wonder what might happen if that playerbase does eventually disappear.
Temtem is a treat for Pokemon fans on PC, innovating on the formula in meaningful ways while staying close to its roots. That's not always good, as Temtem has a lackluster story and an endless churn of wild battles that feel inherently Pokemon, but it's still the best take on the genre in a long time. However, the best part about Pokemon is that I can whip out my Platinum cartridge and return to Sinnoh in a heartbeat with all my old mons lying in wait, and whether Temtem can stand a similar test of time remains to be seen. For now, though, it’s a fabulous creature-catching experience that you need to try. There's a chance that Temtem might even become your favourite Pokemon game yet.