Temtem is the MMO for hardcore Pokémon fans thirsty for a real challenge

I didn’t expect to get this nervous, this early, while playing Temtem, the Pokémon-inspired MMO.

There I was, halfway through a mountain range, standing in the tall grass. I had so long to go before arriving at the next town, and yet I was down to my last monster — and the poor guy’s health was in the red.

“Shit,” I thought. “Am I actually going to wipe out?” Being scared in a monster-collecting game is certainly a rare experience overall, but the other change from the Pokémon franchise was just as interesting: In town, and in my travels, I’m often surrounded by other human players.

This is an online game

Temtem is a massively multiplayer online game, whereas Pokémon has limited online features. And that change means that just about everything has a very different feel if you’re used to the Pokémon games, even if the mechanics are similar in some ways.

You can see people everywhere, and it is buck wild to see a bunch of people running around the game’s equivalent of Pallet Town. It’s especially hilarious to see people swarm NPC houses, or to have a dozen character models superimposed over one another as we all try to fulfill a quest.

The helps Temtem feel alive and teeming with possibility. You aren’t the only one out on an adventure. It’s especially cool to see trainers waltzing around with creatures I’ve never seen before, doing things I haven’t unlocked yet, or wearing outfits that are totally new to me. It makes me want to explore further, so I can have all those things, too.

Photo: Crema

Unfortunately the combination of server issues and lengthy login queues have made it difficult to play at all, much less explore everything the game has to offer.

But Temtem’s creative director tells Polygon that the online features are seamless. You should be able to, for example, trade with anyone and everyone you see with a couple of clicks. You should also be able to propose a battle with anyone you see, or play with a friend in co-op. But most of these interactions have been more hypothetical than possible due to high number of technical issues the team is struggling with at launch.

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I’ll be spending more time with these features in the coming days, but so far, I’ve had plenty of fun emoting and following strangers when I was able to get in, and when everything was working properly.

Right now, though? I’ve got more pressing problems than interacting with other players. I’m running out of money, which means I can’t afford enough healing items. I’m barely in the third town; which means I haven’t tried to challenge a dojo gym yet.

But you know what? After building decades of monster-collecting knowledge, it’s genuinely thrilling to feel a little scared by a game that’s scratching the same basic itch as the Pokémon franchise.

Temtem is not an easy game, nor is it simple

I’m not very far in Temtem, but the cel-shaded adventure is already testing my mettle. It’s a far cry from my experience with traditional pocket monsters, where putting in the time to level my critters is usually enough to skate through turn-based battles without really thinking about them. The last time I got knocked out in Pokémon was probably sometime in middle school.

Temtem, on the other hand, begins by forcing me to lose against my jerk of a rival in my very first battle. This sets the tone for the rest of the early-access title. Sometimes, Temtem suggests, I won’t stand a chance against creatures who have a type advantage against me. I need to use strategy and truly think about my choices, even when I’m a few levels above rival Temtem monsters.

Another tweak to the traditional Pokémon formula comes with the addition of stamina gauges. Each move costs a certain amount of stamina and, if I deplete my bar, my Temtem will damage itself.

This means is that I can’t simply spam my strongest move over and over against my enemies, as I normally would against a computer-controlled enemy in Pokémon. I have to analyze my opponents, and decide when and where my powerful attacks would be the most effective. And I also have to plan on letting my Temtem take a break during battle to replenish its stamina. Ironically enough, slowing down the pace of combat leads to more pressure being put on the player.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=pNHbeZiWuIc%3Frel%3D0

“We’ve been Pokémon players ever since Red and Blue but, over time, as huge fans, we wanted to see the game evolve in a certain way,” Gulliermo Andrades, Temtem’s creative director, told me. “Pokémon is an incredible franchise and means a lot to us, so with Temtem we aimed to create the creature collecting game we’ve always wanted to play.”

One of the biggest criticisms against the iconic Japanese franchise is that it hasn’t grown up with its fans. Storylines remain simple, and battles aren’t much trouble for most of us. It’s no coincidence that some of the earliest mods for each new Pokémon game attempts to create a more hardcore experience than what’s provided by the base game.

In fact, one of the most popular ways to play Pokémon requires a user-imposed ruleset in which monster deaths are treated as permanent. While some of the fandom is young, and others are simply in it for the cute animals, some devotees are clearly hungry for more challenge. And Temtem may offer exactly what they’re looking for.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, though. Temtem presents a world full of pastel colors that come together with a storybook-style softness. The beasts you can collect are also adorable. The first Temtem in your party follows you around in the overworld, which is a great touch that helps create a connection with your starting creature.

I started out by picking Houchic, a mental-type starter with a devilish look. The other two starters are crystal and melee-oriented, which already sound more complex than Pokémon’s standard grass, fire, and water trio offered at the start of each game.

Like its inspiration, each Temtem type has strengths and weaknesses which will affect damage dealt and taken during battle, as well as stats that determine things like attack power and speed.

Instead of Pokémon’s IVs, Temtem has SVs, but they appear to perform the same function by determining the floor and ceiling of your monster’s possible stat growth. Temtem also have built in traits — my starter, for example, won’t wake enemies up when they’re asleep if I attack them. All battles, even ones against wild Temtem, are doubles — meaning that you have two monsters in play at once. You can also encounter two feral Temtem at once.

That use of multiple Temtem isn’t just for show. You’ll be building a team that has to work together in ways that go a little deeper than what I’m used to from Pokémon games.

Everything needs to work together

Moves, types, and traits in Temtem can create “synergy” between your duos. For instance, if you use a Tsunami move while also having a wind ally in the field, the attack gains priority and will also damage your rival’s stamina.

And you’d better believe that the AI will take advantage of this mechanic — so you have to, as well. It’s no mistake that one of Temtem’s central items is a vial that heals and revives your entire team. You can replenish it whenever you go into this game’s equivalent of a Pokémon Center, but even so, it hasn’t saved me from getting down to the wire time and time again in battle.

Photo: Crema

Like Pokémon, you collect Temtem by dwindling down their health — only instead of throwing a Poké Ball, you use a Temcard. The Temcard gives Temtem a more Digimon kind of vibe, with creatures disappearing and materializing as if they were bits of information.

The design of the other human characters is a little disappointing when compared to the Pokémon games, but the conversations I’ve had with them make up for it. Many exchanges offer you dialogue choices, and while they don’t seem to alter the outcome of the conversation, they do allow you to have some fun with it.

One chat, for example, allowed me to introduce myself as Guybrush Threepwood, while another one allowed me to rub my victory in someone’s face. Better yet, not all conversations revolve around Temtem, which makes the world feel a bit more real by admitting things exist that don’t directly have anything to do with battling animals.

But even when the conversations are about Temtem, they’re pretty good. One of my favorite exchanges so far was finding a warring couple who were upset that their partner had Temtem that weren’t complementary with one another, type-wise.

Photo: Crema

These characters will often throw a variety of quests to the player, such as recovering lost items or capturing certain Temtem. These goals are tracked on the right side of your screen, where they’ll remain for a while — you can’t always immediately solve the problems in front of you. At the moment, I have some quests that appear to require a surfboard. I’ll have to backtrack to old locales later if I want to complete them.

I’ve also come across a handful of inaccessible buildings and structures which have “WIP” signs in front of them. Temtem is still in active development, and things are being added, or adjusted, every day.

Which is great news, because I’d love to be able to play much more, without waiting in a long line or wondering if the online features will work at all. This is the beginning of my Temtem journey, not the end.

Temtem is now available for Windows PC via Steam Early Access. The game was played using a download code provided by Crema. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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