It’s taken over two years and a highly-successful Kickstarter campaign to come to fruition, but Spanish developer Crema’s Pokémon-inspired MMORPG creature-collector Temtem has finally released in early access for PC and PlayStation 5, with Nintendo Switch and Xbox Series S/X versions dropping sometime in 2021.

While it’s hard to shake the constant feeling of it being an off-brand knock-off of one of gaming’s most beloved franchises, Temtem still manages to set itself apart with its colorful art style, unique battle mechanics and robust online multiplayer features that even veterans of the genre will find to be a breath of fresh air.

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Gotta Tame ‘Em All

Let’s get this out of the way first: Temtem is unabashedly a Pokémon clone, through and through. The protagonist is a young Temtem tamer who receives their first Temtem from a man named Professor Konstantinos, who encourages them to set out on an adventure where they’ll capture and record new monsters in their Temepedia, battle other tamers to gain experience and challenge the powerful Dojo Masters on their way to becoming the greatest Temtem tamer in all of the Airborne Archipelago.

Sound familiar? That’s because nearly the entire plot is a beat-for-beat recreation of Pokémon Red and Blue, for better and for worse. There’s the childhood “friend” and rival Max who, much like Gary Oak, whines to the professor about your character getting first dibs on a starter Temtem before setting out to outshine you every chance they get. There’s also an evil organization called Clan Belsoto, who serves as the main quest’s primary antagonists in a similar fashion to Team Rocket. Their shady dealings and mysterious goals provide much of what drives the plot forward in each region, even as their leader remains unknown.

The glaring similarities Temtem shares with its inspiration do provide a comforting sense of familiarity for fans of Nintendo’s long-running series while serving as a low barrier of entry for those trying out the monster-collecting RPG genre for the first time. However, the overly simplistic plot ends up feeling like nothing more than an excuse for players to continue battling and taming Temtem rather than an engaging narrative driving the adventure forward. Pokémon fans have long-bemoaned Nintendo’s reluctance to flesh out the story in each new entry of the series, and Temtem ends up suffering from the same issues as a result of its dedication to the Pokémon formula.

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A Whole New World

Thankfully, Temtem makes up for its simplistic narrative with the diverse and vibrant world of the Airborne Archipelago, a fantastical chain of islands suspended in the sky where humans and Temtem peacefully coexist together. The six floating islands that make up the archipelago are wildly different from one another, and players will traverse them all during the course of their journey by way of the many airships that run between them. You’ll explore vast deserts, serene beaches, toxic wastelands, Victorian alleyways and rainy countryside towns, each teeming with region-specific Temtem and a wealth of tamers to challenge.

The variety of biomes in Temtem and the lore behind its fantasy world are a welcome change from Pokémon‘s more grounded, real-world-inspired settings. The Airborne Archipelago is a joy to explore outside of finding and taming new monsters. This is in no small part thanks to the bright and colorful art style, gives each area its own unique atmosphere and visual flair, renewing your sense of exploration every time you reach a new island. Towns and cities are equally lively, each with their own landmarks, events and side quests that flesh out the world and expand upon each region’s lore.

The routes between towns are also sprawling and dense, although the joy that comes with exploring them is often hindered by confusing level design and an unnecessary amount of tamer battles. You’ll constantly find yourself running into dead ends or accidentally jumping over a ledge and having to backtrack through Temtem-infested grass to get back to where you were, and an over-abundance of battles in each route will drain your healing items (and patience) to the limit. There are mini versions of the game’s Temporiums scattered throughout each route, which are similar to Pokémon Centers where players can heal and store Temtem, but these are too few and far between to alleviate the inevitable fatigue you’ll feel facing a barrage of back-to-back battles everywhere you go.

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Temtem Teamwork

Luckily, Temtem‘s battles are often just as enjoyable as Pokémon‘s, requiring a fair bit of strategy and introducing interesting mechanics to mix things up. Instead of one-on-one battles, Temtem tamers battle with two monsters at once, requiring players to carefully choose which combination of types and techniques to use to defeat their opponents. There are a total of twelve types of Temtem, ranging from familiar ones like fire and water to unique types like crystal and digital, each offering their own strengths and weaknesses.

Apart from choosing the most effective type against your opponent’s Temtem, players will also have to carefully manage both the health and stamina of their own monsters, as well as the strategic use of techniques that can only be employed after a certain number of turns have passed. Regardless of when they can be used, each technique requires a set amount of stamina, and depleting all of a Temtem’s stamina bar will cause it to hurt itself and render it unusable for several turns as it continues to take damage. Learning when to rest your Temtem and when to go on the offensive is a key part of combat, and it’s one of the biggest differences that sets Temtem from Pokémon‘s more straightforward battle system.

In terms of capturing new monsters, however, Temtem and Pokémon have more in common; walking through tall grass has a chance of triggering an encounter with a wild Temtem, and players are able to capture them with TemCards after whittling down their health to a certain threshold. The early access version of the game promises 100 different Temtem to hunt down across the Airborne Archipelago, with another 61 or so coming sometime in the future. The current roster provides plenty of variety and type combinations, as well as the ability to breed for unique combinations of techniques. The promise of more to come bodes well for the longevity of the game and its community.

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Looks Are Everything

Temtem‘s biggest strength, apart from it being the closest players can get to a Pokémon experience outside of Nintendo’s ecosystem, is its colorful, beautiful presentation and charming music that perfectly compliments the whimsical setting and characters. Temtem is chock full of personality, from adorable monster designs to the hilarious gibberish that accompanies character dialogue, and the aesthetically-pleasing graphics and magical score further elevate the atmosphere of the game and give it it’s own unique style.

Sure, none of the Temtem designs come anywhere near being as iconic or as memorable as what you’ll find in Pokémon, but they’re a step up from the majority of other games that have attempted to capture the same magic that Nintendo has perfected over the years. You’ll often find yourself facing other tamers and seeing an unfamiliar Temtem who you just have to have, a feeling that will keep players hunting for the perfect version of their favorite monsters that extends long past the end of the main questline.

The game’s UI is equally as polished, providing a clean and easy-to-navigate interface that allows players to do everything from organizing their TemDecks to interacting with other players in the world. The main questline, along with any side quests you discover along your journey, are handily displayed on the right side of the screen with their current objectives highlighted to point you in the right direction. And while the main quest is fairly self-explanatory, some of the side quests are less clear in regards to where they want you to go or what they want you to do. This could all be fixed with a patch in the future, but as it currently stands, there just isn’t enough information in-game to make the side quests enjoyable enough to complete.

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The More the Merrier

Perhaps the biggest difference between Temtem and Pokémon is the fact that, unlike Nintendo’s bare-bones online features, developer Crema has touted its game as a massively-multiplayer online experience that allows players to interact with each other from the very start of their journey. You’ll see other players running around the Airborne Archipelago alongside you, their Temtem following close behind them. There are a variety of ways to chat, including local, global and trading channels that allow you to find and befriend like-minded players along your journey.

The current early access build also includes ranked matchmaking and cross-play between PC and PlayStation 5, with an auction and trading house, club wars and in-game tournaments coming in the future. Temtem places a major emphasis on community and multiplayer elements, which in turn helps to make the world of the Airborne Archipelago feel like a living, breathing place.

For an early access game, Temtem sure does a lot of things right. The diverse and colorful world, strategic combat system and extensive multiplayer elements come together to create an experience that’s as close as you can get to the authentic Pokémon experience on a console not made by Nintendo. And while the world and its monsters may not be as well-designed or as iconic as the series it draws inspiration from, Temtem is still an enjoyable game that has the potential to build a thriving online community around its addictive and player-focused gameplay loop.

Developed by Crema and published by Humble Bundle, Temtem is now in early access on Steam and PlayStation 5. Nintendo Switch and Xbox Series S|X versions are planned for 2021. A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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