TemTem does what Pokemon won’t

TemTem does what Pokemon won’t

Hi, I am Benjamin Wagner, this is my website and today I will be…playing Temtem but undoubtedly speaking more about Pokemon.

Pokémon, like the British Royal family, has many fans but also many, many ­critics.

 I’m one of those critics.

These ‘critics’ have inspired fans and other creators to attempt to replicate the success of the original phenomenon. This means two things. First, I will become King of England. And secondly, TemTem is a Pokemon-like game. It feels weird that this genre, in terms of official games and not rom hacks, is fairly sparse and it is only in the last 4-5 years that the monster taming genre has attempted to encapsulate and ensnare us away from the nostalgic grip of the Pokeymans. But this genre is growing. Nexomon. Monster Crown. Nexomon Extinction. Yokai Watch. Plus the upcoming DokeV and Coromon. All alongside the ever present and ever releasing original Pokeymen series. The titan finally has some competition.

But what are these games trying to achieve? Even the most naïve of itty-bitty babies wouldn’t dare to think that they could suddenly outdo the biggest multimedia franchise on the planet but there is certainly some cake left to pinch. Cake left by the fans frustrated by the stagnant and cheesy odour left behind by the unchanging, unyielding Pokeman goliath. But other than simply financial gain for the developers, what do these games bring to the party to make them stand out from their inspiration. The answer, my friends, is simple. Innovation.

The question I will now pose here and will also attempt to answer here is Why is TemTem, and by the same effect, other capture monster games important to the future of the Pokemon series? This is my take on TemTem.

Temtem is not a finished game. As of writing this, the game is still in early access on Steam and on the Playstation 5 console. Yet, the content that is available is more than sufficient to be spoken about, as I have put over 50 hours into the game to this point, finishing the story beats that are currently in the game and playing around with the taming mechanics.
TemTem, for all intents and purposes, is 3rd generation Pokemon brought up to speed with the modern era. Instead of going for flashy Chinese or Korean cinematics and mind-blowing graphics, TemTem sticks close to the visual style of the series whilst adding its own twist. The game is set on a floating archipelago, and this actually does a good job of gating content for the players. But the main thing to get up to speed with are the types of TemTem. Pokemon typing is pretty universally known at this point and whilst there are similarities between the two, the pre-eminence of the Pokemon system in my brain being so ingrained in my childhood memories meant that learning a new set of type matchups took a long time to get used to. The battling systems, the wild encounters, the encouragement to catch them all; TemTem wears its inspiration on its lapel like a big shiny star.  However, maybe, just maybe TemTem is a little more than just a Pokemon rip-off.

On the face of it, Temtem could be considered nothing more than a Poundshop version of its M&S compadre. A cheap Viatnamese watch versus a pristinely crafted Rolex. A tamer to a trainer. And there is some of this. Gyms become Dojos. Pokeballs become TemCards and so forth. But this game goes much deeper than faces. This game goes deep. Deep inside the bowels and innards of this Pokemon-like creature and it’s parasitic tentacles transform this experience into one that looks familiar but feels new. And I will go through each of these innovations and explain why these are important and what makes them so enjoyable.

Innovation One: Double Battle (Synergy, tactics)

Battles in the Pokemon series have been the same since their inception, with only small tweaks to the attack and special attack stats over the years hinting at the illusion of development and change. TemTem has adopted the double battle idea from Pokemon’s own, an innovation that was birthed back in generation 3 but this part has always felt like a tacked on extra to the mostly single battle-oriented gameplay of the main series and as if the potential was yet to be fully realised. I can confirm that in Temtem, every battle is a double battle. And, to my surprise and glee, this works really well and feels surprisingly intuitive to play. As if it was both old and new all at once. This feeling is added to by little tweaks to the classic battling monster formula that elevate the combat one step above its counterpart: namely synergy. Different Tems synergise with other Tems in certain ways that can benefit combat and increase the power of moves or other stats. This adds additional tactical nuance to combat in order to boost the power of moves and take the opponents out faster. And with combat rarely resulting in a one hit KO, the tactics are deeper than they appear on the surface. This means battles often take slightly longer than Pokémon but feel more rewarding to come out on top of.  But there is one combat focused area I missed here. Because that is…

Innovation Two: Stamina system (Stamina, move timers)

This is the best thing about TemTem. Once in a while a messenger comes down from the heavens and brings unto games a gift that we mere mortals do not deserve. The stamina system is TemTem is not this gift, but it is close. Basically replacing the PP system in Pokemon, in which each Pokemon can use each move a set number of times before exhausting their quota, TemTem fits each monster with a stamina bar and each move with a number. A stamina number. Each time your TemTem makes a move, it consumes stamina. Some moves require a lot whereas others require very little. However, you have to weigh up when to use which move. Do you use the big 25 stamina attack in the hope you knock out the current opponent whilst leaving you vulnerable to the opposing tamer’s new creature? Or do you conserve your stamina and attempt to whittle away at the opponents health bar, knowing that one good combination from the other side could leave your monster KO’d and the stamina, therefore wasted. This system is truly deep. Deeper than Pokemon has ever really felt; with most Pokemon battles relying on just picking a super effective Pokemon and knocking the AI trainers out with one hit KO’s. TemTem doesn’t sanction this and instead throws you into a world where you are not the only competent tamer in the west. People started before you and, shock and horror, they know what they are doing. I found some of the greatest battles in the game being the fights against the Dojo Masters. I had a close encounter with each and every one. Musa, one of the later dojo masters actually beat me twice and forced me to change not just my tactics but actually my team as well in order to finally grind out a win.

This system is deepened even further by the addition of move timers, with the most powerful moves usually locked away at the start of the battle behind a timer that unlocks after 1, 2 or, god forbid, maybe even three turns. Yes, some of these battles can be lengthy affairs, and I would be lying that after the 10th battle on a route, the game didn’t sometimes descend into tedium, but this tedium is a small price to pay for this clever innovation the developers at Crema have conjured up here.

But not all innovations have to be new. Some simply have to adapt what already exists and make it into something more accessible and sleek feeling. Leading us onto…

Innovation Three: Monster breeding refinement (SV’s, TV’s, virility, choice of moves)
First, a disclaimer. I don’t do this sort of thing. I don’t try and breed the perfect monster and spend hours pouring over the meta-game. I can’t immerse myself in a game this way simply because instead of spending 20 hours breeding the perfect Ganki, I could instead be playing a completely different game. And I just prefer than. However, the breeding system in TemTem is deep. I think that’s the third time I’ve said that. TemTem is a rabbit hole that if you fall down, escape is futile. My friend is waiting for the full release of the game before jumping in, but I can just tell, once he reaches the point of breeding and catching shiny temtem, known as luma’s in this series, he will fall in love with what is provided here. Instead of having to use online calculators to work out whether your creature is a temtem dominating behemoth or a pitiful grape, this game just tells you. That’s right, guessing a creatures IV’s, in TemTem known as SV’s is a thing of the past. There are also many items that aid a tamer in breeding the perfect Tem, passing down the parent tem’s stats to the child. There are some restrictions, most being the virility of each Tem is limited. In short, you cannot use the same tem over and over; they become infertile and cannot breed anymore.

Ladies, I don’t have that problem.

This meta game could entertain the right player for hours and one only needs to glance at the in-game trade chat, mostly written in indecipherable runes to see that the fans who get it, are hardcore into it and, given the right push, the competitive scene of TemTem could grow to be a goliath all its own.

The change here I appreciate most is a much smaller quality of life addition. Namely, the ability to change a monsters move set at any time from the menu. Instead of forgetting moves when you learn  a new one, they go into a sort of memory bank. When you want to change things up, simply drag the old move in, replace one and your good to go. So simple, so elegant and a mile away from Pokemon’s archaic move tutor system. Seriously, this is so player friendly it makes me feel smug that I have experienced this decadent luxury. That’s right Pokémon playing peasants, I have suckled on the teat of the Goddess’s nectar, and that is Quality of life features. That sentence was unnecessarily flowery. Yet speaking of words and dialogue transitions us perfectly into…

Innovation Four: A story… that tries (Story and dialogue trees)

Who out there plays Pokemon for the dialogue? Nobody I would trust to butter my toast, that’s who. Yet, it is easy to appreciate how Crema have put such effort into characterisation and the amount of written dialogue in this game. Whilst we still haven’t achieved a game in this genre with voice acting, something I really can’t believe Pokemon hasn’t even attempted yet, the story and dialogue is oddly ambitious and tries much harder than I had ever thought. Whilst the game starts as many others do, with your first day as a tamer beginning and you leaving your village to become a taming God, the story slowly morphs itself into a much bigger beast; including an archipelago spanning crisis with an organisation that feels like they could actually achieve their goals. I’m not giving any specific spoilers here, but this organisation goes to war with a nation in TemTem. An actual war where people die. This would be unheard of in a Pokemon game and the guts to stick to this concept throughout the game is enviable and has earnt my respect. The developers could have stayed safe but instead allows character development to take centre stage and let you feel like you are earning the plaudits and trust the in-game characters are giving you. Speaking of the in-game characters, there are many of them and whilst most are simply fodder-like throw away NPC’s some stick around longer; with the short-tempered airship captain Adia Turay and her crew being my personal favourites. But there is one character of contention. And that is your rival. Max.

Oh yes, they just couldn’t throw this trope away. Max is a boy from the same town as you and he wants to beat you. He likely will beat you in your first battle as he starts with a much stronger Tem than whichever starter you are provided. He is obnoxious, unlikable and despite other characters telling me that he respects me, I can’t see that from his character. I will not spoil what happens to Max as the story progresses, but the game does come up short in Max’s character arc. The game expects me to feel for this character’s pain but, because of the constant obnoxious behaviour and baiting that he inflicts on us, it is hard to feel for him in the end. An ambitious story attempt that falls somewhat flat; although just the intent is appreciated after the rival arc that Pokemon Sword made me sit through.

HOP LOSING ONE MATCH AND FEELING SAD ISN’T CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, GAME FREAK!

Uhum. Speaking of ambition, TemTem continues to exude that with dialogue trees. That’s right. Dialogue trees in a Pokemon style game. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, this isn’t Divinity or Pathfinder; this is a very basic choose an option to get dialogue affair with the choices themselves meaning very little in the grand scheme of things. What it does offer us is a look into the mindset of the developers. Instead of writing just one line of dialogue for each NPC, most have different answers to each of the three questions you could ask them. And many go on for multiple sentences. There is length and depth to these conversations. They are not all golden, with more than a few being dull, silly, or just plain tedious. But what is taken away in length is added in charm, with many characters cracking jokes and making you feel part of the TemTem universe.   TemTem is not always successful, but it tries to be new and inventive. And when it lands, boy is it impressive.

The game also isn’t afraid to change things up with certain challenges as the game progresses. At around the 20-hour mark, something important happens in the story than strips you of some of the things you have earnt as you have progressed, such as your surfboard but after this, it goes one step further and places you in a dungeon without your Temtem team, instead giving you a team of four new Temtem to take the dungeon on with. This is the sort of risk I can really appreciate. Could you imagine Pokemon doing this. Planting you in the Diglett cave with nothing but your weird uncle’s Goldeen and Feebas? No. Because Pokemon doesn’t take risks. And this section stands as one of my favourites because of it. This isn’t your kiddies Pokemon. TemTem isn’t afraid to kick you when you’re down and you have to work for your wins.

TemTem does bring forth one more large innovation to the stagnant formula and that is…

Innovation Five: The incorporation of online features and co-op gameplay

Pokemon and, well, Nintendo as a company, have always been a step behind the industry in terms of embracing the power of the internet in enhancing a game’s multiplayer presence. You can trade Pokemon and battle your friends, but the experience has always felt stilted and hasn’t developed much from the days of the DS, with the recent max raid battles doing little in fixing this issue with a matchmaking infrastructure that simply doesn’t work. TemTem, on the other hand, is truly revolutionary. It allows you to play through all of the single player content alongside a friend in co-op gameplay. It doesn’t matter where you are in the game, you can connect with a friend and help them through the story as you double battle your way across the archipelago as a dynamic duo. Co-op Pokemon has been a long-held dream of many and even the hint of this in the Let’s Go games excited many. TemTem’s multiplayer is much more than a gimmick and felt like a refreshing change from the tacked-on afterthought that Pokémon dishes up every couple of years. It’s fun, it’s revolutionary and, it works. What more can you ask? The internet is the future and that future is brought to us, by TemTem.

An incredibly cheesy but beautiful vocal track.

On Camera:

And it is these five innovations where TemTem could very well be inexplicably crafting its very own niche in this Pokemon dominated genre. However, even someone as silly and naïve as I am not fooling myself on the potential TemTem has. This will not kill Pokemon. Pokemon is at a size where it is impossible to kill. However, TemTem could do one of two things. It either continues to poach those frustrated enough with modern Pokemon to play TemTem. I don’t see this happening because, as I will mention again later, TemTem isn’t modern enough to take a significant number of disillusioned folk from their childhood sweetheart. So the second thing that TemTem can do, and I think this is genius, is that it can influence the future games in the Pokemon series. The aforementioned innovations are far from mind blowing yet do enough to make fans who have never experienced anything else. Pokemon is the abusive husband who hasn’t allowed his partner to leave the house and when she finally plucks up the courage to leave, she finds freedom. She finds change. She finds TemTem.

It isn’t all sunshine, flowers and Saku here though. No, TemTem isn’t all innovation however, and unfortunately, much like a middle-aged man, there are many things about TemTem that are entrenched in the past.

Firstly, the soundtrack is very Pokemony. If you played this soundtrack over a classic Pokemon game, I couldn’t tell the difference. This is both a compliment and a criticism. The composers clearly care for their inspiration and have made this soundtrack in the visage of the lonely master. However, this does mean the game does struggle to carve out an audio identity of its own. I’m not a massive appreciator of video game music yet I know what I like, and I don’t like. And this… This is just okay.

But for a game such as this, music is more than a soundtrack. For if you have creatures, your creatures must make noises. And these ones do. The sounds they make, are reminiscent of the early Pokemon games, the tinny growl that reminds me of the Gen 3 glory days. This is no better or worse than Pokemon yet I think I prefer the TemTem sounds simply because of the PS5 controller playing some of the sound effects out of the controller itself. When you are simply mimicking what another does, at least do it in an interesting and undeniably cool way. And sounds and vibrations are the coolest.

I can confirm that, yes, TemTem has graphics. Look, it’s clear that TemTem is wearing its inspiration on its sleeve and there is no where clearer than in the way the game looks. The fixed camera angles and the anime-esque designs are clearly riffing off the established Pokemon formula, with many tropes following in the footsteps of its older brother. But I’ve already said that. So let’s move onto something I haven’t said. The monster designs are really good. If you told me they were Pokemon, most of the time, I would believe you. They all fit a theme, and all look as if they could realistically exist in the world of TemTem. Sometimes you see fan-designed Pokemon and simply guffaw at the childlike naivety of the giant bag of rubbish that is walking around sentient but there is nothing so outlandish in TemTem. One thing I don’t like, is the character designs. Whilst these characters are more expressive than the dead fish faces of the Pokemon series, Pokemon has not been known for animation and character design… ever. It isn’t that hard to outdo this. And TemTem does… Barely. I dunno. The human characters all just look a little… off. As if they look like cartoony humans yet slightly deformed as well. This may just be the design. Doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like it.

Performance wise, TemTem sometimes purrs like a Ferrari before sputtering like a Kia Ceed. Much like a young driver that has recently passed their test, TemTem crashes. A lot. And while this has never ended in deathly fiery inferno, the crashes have been relatively frequent, totalling comfortably over 10 in my 50+ hours of game time. I know the game is in early access so some leeway can be given but, going back to cars, if you were testing a car and found out it had no brakes, would you be content? No! So considering I have paid money for this product, I will criticise. And this is a big deal. Or it would be if I had lost data. But, thankfully, TemTem’s data upload seems to be pretty damn effective, and I have had no occurrence of losing any of my progress through crashes. So while crashing can be annoying and take up precious, precious time in which I could be doing something else , it did not impact the enjoyment I felt playing TemTem.

One other problem I see with TemTem is that in a world where fans so desperately want Pokemon to innovate, it is possible that TemTem has done enough to draw some of us over but not enough to entice the rest. The game looks graphically fine but no better than Pokemon. The world is still stuck in place by a resilient fixed camera and that dates the way the game feels. The in battle animations are nice but they are still a step away from what the long time hardcore fanbase have wanted for aeons. TemTem is a good first step, but I still walk away wanting more. Wanting bigger. Wanting crazier. And that’s a shame, because given the budget and the backing, I would trust these devs to do the work. I would let them iron me like a freshly dried shirt and then fold me up. Because they are soft, gentle beings. They wouldn’t hurt me. They’ve earnt that trust. Game Freak wouldn’t bother with the iron. You’d be dragged out of the pile and placed on a hook, creases everywhere and your shame on show to the world. That is the Crema touch.

So now we approach the end of our journey. Dojo Masters defeated and Tempedia full. It is here in which we reach, the crux of the matter.

The Crux of the Matter

Pokemon is stoic, safe, and riding on its previous successes. Pokemon is John Major. TemTem is exciting ambitious and thirsty for power. TemTem is Tony Blair.  Both have a strong base and a strong concept to rally behind. But what they do with this concept is what separates the immovable colossus and the plucky pretender. TemTem innovates and adapts the structure of old to create something that feels as fresh as recently harvested beetroot. Ripe. Delicious. Yet not as popular as the freshly fried comfort food being touted next to you. Sure. The beetroot will find its niche. The vegans. The eco-warriors. Mum’s trying to reinvent a Sunday Roast. Yet it will never be as big as the comforting warmth of the known quantity. And that’s something TemTem will never have.

And that is the crux of the matter. TemTem isn’t Pokemon. And that’s okay. It isn’t technically perfect. It isn’t any more than an attempt at prising some of the hardcore Pokemon fans away from their homes. As I said, TemTem isn’t Pokemon. It doesn’t have to be. It’s a good time as it is. But let’s quantify that good time with… visuals. TemTem is a fine game that innovates and tries to do new things but does have moments of tedium and a few slip-ups that do impact how much fun I can have with the game at a time.

So, to score this game is difficult as it is still in early access but I will make the decision. For I am ballsy. I score TemTem:

7.3/10A good game that aspires to be bigger than its inspiration… with mixed results.

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