The latest console exclusive for PS5 is a clone of Pokémon that already rivals Nintendo’s games, despite it not being finished yet.
The launch of the next gen consoles has highlighted many fundamental differences in how Microsoft and Sony approach the games industry, but one that’s most interesting to us is how much Sony has learnt from Nintendo this time round. There’s always been more similarities in the two company’s approaches than there is between Microsoft and Nintendo, but Astro’s Playroom, and the way it demonstrates the new DualSense controller, feels especially Nintendo-esque.
Astro’s Playroom is not one-off though, as the PlayStation 5’s launch line-up also has the family friendly Sackboy: A Big Adventure and would probably have had Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart too, if the coronavirus hadn’t intervened. By comparison, the Xbox Series X/S doesn’t have anything particularly family friendly, unless you count Fortnite or the optimised version of Ori And The Will Of The Wisps, and none of the new developers Microsoft has bought recently are known for making that type of game.
Given the general problems with the Xbox Series X/S launch games it’s hard to say how permanent a hole this will be in their portfolio, but Sony is now yet another step ahead of them, as the PlayStation 5 plays host to the best Pokémon game never made. Like the PC version from earlier in the year, this is only an early access game and while it’s not particularly buggy it is fairly incomplete – but that only makes it even more impressive given how much fun it already is.
Now that both expansions for Pokémon Sword/Shield are out the franchise faces an uncertain future, given the most recent entry was one of the most financially successful in several generations but had some of the series’ most mixed reviews. It offered the biggest upgrade in the style of graphics and presentation that Pokémon has ever seen and yet still ended up being one of the worst looking first party games on the Switch.
Temtem doesn’t even try to look like anything but a slightly upgraded 3DS game, although it at least has the excuse that it’s been made on a tiny indie budget and isn’t finished yet. Five minutes from starting the game and it’s clear that this isn’t just influenced by Pokémon, it could almost be a missing entry with the set-up involving leaving home and trying to fill out a Pokédex equivalent being essentially identical.
Obviously, all the monsters are different from Pokémon but the style of turn-based combat is almost exactly the same. The big difference though is that Temtem is an MMO. That’s something most Pokémon fans have been dreaming of for decades and yet The Pokémon Company has always studiously avoided. In Temtem, instead of ghostly players glitching around the Wild Area, unable to interact with anyone, you see players running around, going about their business everywhere just as you always imagined.
By modern standards there’s absolutely nothing revolutionary about Temtem’s online options (although the cross-play with the PC version is very welcome) but being able to talk to other players whenever you want, and join in co-op play, battles, or trades is hugely liberating. Developer Crema clearly understands why The Pokémon Company is so cautious about such things though and makes good use of an icon-based communication system that ensures it’s impossible to say anything unpleasant to other, potentially younger, players.
While the basics of combat are very familiar the details are different. The temtems themselves are still split up into different elemental groups – just slightly different to the ones in Pokémon – but the standard style of battle is two vs. two, which is something Sword and Shield rarely offers in normal play. There’s also a great emphasis on managing your critters’ stamina (there’s no PP as such), which encourages a lot more tactical play as you try to bide your time and not use moves that will also disadvantage your team-mate.
The customisation options for creating your character are also much more involved than for Pokémon and you can decorate your room to a similar degree. Although the user interface does need some work, especially the menus that make it hard to tell which one is currently active.
Unfortunately, the story in Temtem is still just as paper-thin and irrelevant as Pokémon, while exploration is limited in a similar manner. Although the game world is presented as if it’s something you can explore at your leisure you’re constantly impeded by what are clearly just knee-high walls and insubstantial lines of shrubbery. Temtem is technically open world but it’s one you have to explore according to artificial limitations the developers place upon you.
We also would’ve been happy to see the battle system be something completely different to Pokémon but Crema are, first and foremost, pokéfans and they’re not making this to turn a quick buck but because it’s the sort of Pokémon game they want to play.
We can respect that and as long-term fans of the series we’ve enjoyed this at least as much as Sword and Shield. The creature designs, while often derivative, are bright and colourful and, compared to when we played the PC version at the beginning of the year, there’s now 30 hours of story content and four different islands to visit. Two more are promised before the end of early access, along with a total of over 161 Temtem, a clan PvP mode, an auction house, hardcore mode, and more.
Temtem still isn’t finished, which is why there’s no score here, but Crema are making good on their promise of constant improvements and additions; so when it does come out of early access next year The Pokémon Company is going to have their most serious rival for a very long time.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Release Date: 8th December 2020 (Switch and XSX in 2021)
Age Rating: 3
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