Sound familiar? Just wait.
Once they’ve made their mind up, they embark on their very own adventure across the Airborne Archipelago, befriending and training monsters in an effort to become the world’s greatest Temtem tamer.
I’ve been playing “Temtem” ever since it launched in early access for PC back in January 2020. While it enjoyed a peak of almost 40,000 concurrent players around that time, to say its popularity has dwindled since would be like saying people like Pokémon — a true statement, albeit one that doesn’t quite capture its own magnitude. Two years ago, most people were of the opinion that “Temtem” was a serviceable Pokémon clone, but if you wanted a catch-'em-up RPG that was the very best, like no one ever was, this new contender fell markedly short of its Poké-progenitor.
Since 2020, however, Spanish developer Crema Games has slowly but surely carved out a distinct identity for its Pokémon-esque MMO. While Pokémon’s DNA is still evident in the game, “Temtem” — to borrow from its greatest inspiration — is a bit like Mewtwo: A corrupted, derivative, cloned version of a purer original that gradually learned to understand its own strengths and weaknesses, and in acknowledging both, became better for it.
The core of “Temtem” is nearly identical to Pokémon: You catch creatures, train them to beat up other creatures and progress the story whenever the creatures you beat up happen to belong to someone of designated importance. There are proprietary equivalents for the Pokédex (Tempedia), Pokémon Centers (Temporiums), Poké Balls (TemCards), Potions (Balms), Escape Ropes (Smoke Bombs), and more — hell, “Temtem” even incorporates a fully functional breeding system based on Pokémon’s Day Care.
But “Temtem’s” wholesale lifting of the Pokémon structure is brazen in a way that scans as earnest devotion. There is no effort put into hiding the game’s obvious influences, nor to claim established ideas as “Temtem’s” own. And so, to label it derivative and call it a day is, well, boring. You’re missing the point.
When it comes to quality-of-life features, for example, “Temtem” is remarkably more refined and player-friendly than the driving force of the world’s most profitable entertainment franchise. In part, that’s because the developers have been unbelievably responsive to player concerns. The difference between a video game developed by an indie studio like Crema and a video game developed by a flagship Nintendo subsidiary like Game Freak is that the former is measurably more interested in catering to its players — be that 40,000 players or 40. Because of this, “Temtem,” in an odd twist of fate, has implemented systems the likes of which Pokémon fans have only ever dreamed of, ushering in a strange new era in which the copycat has itself become worthy of being copied.
“Temtem” features support for competitive play that allows people to easily assemble viable teams, meaning that anyone can participate in high-level play. It removes all elements of RNG to make even its single-player component noticeably more challenging than anything you’d expect to find in a Pokémon game. And it has constantly honed all of these systems for over two years, ultimately amounting to a highly polished game. It is arguably the perfect title for jaded Pokémon fans desperate for a fresh approach, while also being a good fit for those still devoted to Game Freak’s iconic RPGs (in that it provides them with a perspective on what other developers can accomplish within a similar framework).
And yet, “Temtem’s” meaningful iterations on concepts pioneered by Pokémon have been bafflingly absent from the conversation around the game. A sizable number of ex-players treated it as a monster-taming RPG worth whiling away some time in during the lengthy wait for a new mainline Pokémon title. And yet, two and a half years since launching in early access, “Temtem” is very much its own game, with its own story and ideas and ambitions. It is not just yet another instance of Pokémon-lite with a new lick of paint.
Where “Temtem” differs is in its personality. People have complained about Pokémon “being for kids” for years (Pokémon is, in fact, for kids). “Temtem” seems acutely aware of that complaint. It is more grown up — which is not to suggest that it is serious, profound, or equipped with some kind of philosophical gravitas. In fact, it is usually very silly, and often funny as a result. There are drunkards in each town, jokes that clearly target an older demographic, and so on — but it’s not self-serious. The writers are very clearly just having fun.
There are obviously flaws, too. “Temtem” has yet to design a creature capable of making it into a list of the top 100 Pokémon, a curse that seems destined to befall all modern monster-taming RPGs. It also, on account of it launching in early access just two months after “Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield,” is a little behind the current generation of Pokémon in some ways, the most apparent of which is its reliance on random encounters. It is very annoying going from the Crown Tundra to a game in which every handful of steps puts you head-to-head with one of three wild Tems in an area. Like everything else in Pokémon, Repels have also been re-appropriated as Scents in “Temtem” — but given their relative priciness and “Temtem’s” rather difficult economy, they’re usually in short supply.
Even these issues command respect. While it doesn’t have its own Pikachu, Squirtle, or Gengar, “Temtem” has consistently given its all when it comes to integrating new monsters into the game. It has not reversed its decision to implement random encounters — if anything, the gauntlets between towns have become even longer and more arduous, which is perhaps attributable to the same stubbornness that made “Temtem” possible in the first place. And the economy adds a whole new layer of difficulty to the game, in that you can’t just beat up a rich kid, buy 50 Revives and waltz through the rest of the story with your eyes closed. Every discernible “flaw” that “Temtem” possesses is perhaps more accurately described as a choice by the developers — even those that have been contentiously received by players. There’s courage in that.
“Temtem” has had a rough run. After a month in the limelight, it was left in the dark for two and a half years, with only a fraction of its players returning for each expansion, and fewer still continuing to play between them. But Crema has persisted, and in doing so, has put out what is arguably the strongest non-Pokémon monster-tamer on the market. The implications of this will be fascinating: Is it now viable to take on Pokémon, or for ambitious developers interested in other genres to take on their respective, would-be monopolists?
Regardless, what “Temtem” has achieved is remarkable. After two years of being dubbed a copycat, its long-awaited launch may yet inspire copycats of its own.
Cian Maher is a freelance writer from Dublin. You can follow him on Twitter @cianmaher0.