A slavish devotion to an existing game or franchise can sometimes result in magic. Stardew Valley, one of the most notable games of the last decade, was the result of one man's love of the Harvest Moon series. Especially when a game is constrained by platform exclusivity or an owner who doesn't know what to do with the property, an awesome tribute game can be a boon.
Temtem is a title by independent developer Crema, intended as a loving homage to Pokemon. Fans have argued in either direction whether the Pokemon games are treated poorly by Game Freak and the Pokemon Company, but overall, it's still alive and well. The creators of Temtem have ideas about how to improve Pokemon's take on creature battling, and they've created a whole new world to prove it.
Players start on the Airborne Archipelago, where a host of young heroes lie in wait, wanting to be the ultimate "Temtem" tamer. The structure mirrors Pokemon to some of the smallest details. The Temtem creatures have unique elemental strengths and weaknesses? Check. Starting from a small town with the help of a professor and a steadfast rival? Random battles in the tall grass? Being able to capture new Temtem with TemCards and then trade and breed them? Check, check, and check. The foundation is startlingly familiar, but on top of that it's laid other features that Game Freak should be thinking of.
First and foremost, Temtem is a fully online world. When I was playing the alpha earlier this week, I could occasionally see other tamers wandering around with their favorite Temtem following close behind. Crema calls Temtem a massively-multiplayer-online game, but I didn't feel there were too many players wandering around: instead if felt like playing a single-player Pokemon adventure, where you'd occasionally notice other tamers. It just makes the world feel a little less static.
Crema is promising further online options as well. Cooperative battling was available in the Alpha, but I was unable to try it out since our Staff Writer Nadia Oxford was busy with another game. There were also greyed out options in the menu screen for Clubs, akin to online guilds, and competitive leagues, so it looks like the developer wants to push the online legs of Temtem.
There's also some robust customization options, including a host of faces, skin colors, stances, hair types, and clothing options, all of which allow you to choose the color scheme and are completely non-binary. (Yeah, it's one big pool, rather than having Boys and Girls options like in Pokemon Sword and Shield.) Though I ran into a few other players, no one else looked like me, and trailers of Temtem's full experience show further clothing items that weren't a part of initial character creation, including hats, glasses, and even wings.
I was honestly surprised at how technically strong Temtem was. I knew it was an independent title, but I wasn't prepared for the polish I found in the Alpha client. The camera could use an option for a few more interesting angles, especially when you reach a new town, but Temtem is a colorful, gorgeous game and it ran at a rock-solid 60fps on my PC. I don't have a personal preference for a locked frame rate, but it goes toward making a game feel better overall. All the Temtem I ran into were wonderfully animated, though the animations felt limited in scope, as they are in Pokemon too: There's just moving, idle, and attack animations needed for these types of games, so I suppose there's less room to really 'Wow' in that space. In contrast, the soundtrack is pretty catchy, which is especially surprising since I don't normally pay attention to music in games unless it's great.
The designs of the Temtem themselves are pretty well-done, though many of them feel like if you squinted they'd just be Pokemon. Smazee is a Melee Temtem that's one of your three starters, and it looks similar to Chimchar. The eventual evolution of the basic bird Temtem Paharo evokes the majestically normal energy of Pidgeot, its Pokemon counterpart. I guess that's a pretty big compliment though, that a smaller developer is out here with designs that look like they'd fit right into a Pokemon game. Right now, the full TemDeck, the Pokedex equivalent, numbers a solid 141 TemTem available; that's far short of Pokemon, but a great place to start.
Even with just a short amount of time under my belt, Temtem's alpha was impressive. No, it's not Pokemon, but it's making a strong case for being good enough if you don't need Pikachu, Gengar, Mudkip, or Lucario to enjoy a monster catching good time. This is a foundation the developer is building on, because unlike Nintendo and GameFreak, it doesn't need to release annual or bi-annual iterations. Temtem is a game that, assuming it's successful, can be added upon for years. You can tell the developer is already thinking ahead, because the world itself are various themed islands floating in an empty sky. There will always be space to add more regions, more customization options, or more Temtem. Game Freak might be jumping into DLC for the first time this year, but Temtem is shaping up to be more of an ongoing title.
The early access release is happening on Steam on January 21, but the game is planned for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 in the future. While Pokemon is constrained by platform, Temtem is aiming for everyone. If you've wanted to play Pokemon elsewhere—you should try Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth for Switch and PS4 by the by—Temtem will be one of your few options. Part of Fortnite's strength over battle royale-originator PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds was the early availability on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, while the latter was still PC-only. Temtem could benefit for a similar reason, depending on how quickly those console versions get released.
I'm not as big a Pokefan as some of my colleagues, but I find Temtem tantalizing. At the very least, a developer is trying to compete against Pokemon on its own turf. I can see it carving out its own niche, especially once it comes to consoles, but at the bare minimum, perhaps it'll inspire Game Freak to further improve Pokemon. A great loving homage can make everything better, and that's what I'm seeing in Temtem's future.