When we think of gaming homages we like to think of video games that are inspired by previous creations but try to go their own way. This can mean taking things from their story, their visual style to even entire mechanics that are just slightly tweaked. These can range from things like Undertale being inspired by Earthbound to Beat Saber being inspired by Guitar Hero. Now however it seems as though a small studio from Spain, Crema, are looking to take inspiration from and directly challenge one of the biggest gaming franchises in the world, Pokemon, with their own game TemTem. How does this early access title hold up against the games that directly inspire it? I suppose we better find out.
The Story of TemTem takes place in the floating islands of the Airborne Archipelago which all feature different environments and types of creatures that live on them. As of this review only three are currently available however when the game is fully released it’s said that six islands in total will be available to visit. In this world there are of course creatures of different elemental types that exist alongside the human denizens. It’s up to you as a ‘Tamer’ to capture these creatures using digital cards, have them battle alongside you, defeat the various Dojos of each of these islands and stop the nefarious Clan Bestolo from completing their objectives. If you’ve ever played a Pokemon game before then this will all sound very familiar and as such you will feel comfortably at home dealing with a story of this calibre. However something which I found rather amusing is that due to this being it’s own seperate franchise and, of course, being an MMO the developers decided to go with a slightly more mature story and characters in order to make the game stand out. There is interesting and complicated references by random characters and the story itself, there is more colourful dialogue and characters even die during this adventure! You wouldn’t see something like this in a Pokemon game that’s for certain. However as most people may tell you the story of a creature collection game isn’t too important as it’s more about the journey of your adventure from fledgling novice to master tamer that is what truly matters. As a result as of current don’t expect to be completely riveted by the story presented but expect to be at least a bit surprised as it certainly went to places I had not anticipated.
The presentation of TemTem feels as though it went the direction that Pokemon should have gone; bright and colourful cell shaded styling with an emphasis on expressive animations on the creatures. The world itself is very bright and has a lot of charm and personality to it. The fact that everything is on floating islands gives more opportunities to explore interesting locales and have a lot more variety when it comes to the environments. There’s also a lot more verticality to the world so when you’re ascending a mountain you really feel as though you are going up an actual mountain rather than just following a particularly windy path. I also really like the designs on many of the TemTem creatures, especially the mental type ones. However I am fully aware that creature design is fully up to player preferences so you might find them a bit bland or overly designed and that is entirely your own opinion. The music too is catchy for a lot of areas however when it comes to the main battle music I found it to get repetitive rather quickly and so when grinding levels opted to simply listen to my own playlists instead. I also find it a bit strange that the game has no voice acting at all but instead goes for a ‘Breath of the Wild’ type of dialogue expression where brief grunts and noises at the start of conversation are the only sounds you hear rather than them actually saying their text. I would say either focus on adding full voice acting or leave it completely silent and only text based as having it a mix of the two just seems a bit strange.
Now the gameplay is of course what you might expect from a game that blatantly states that it is inspired by Pokemon. You capture creatures in the wild and battle them against one another in turn based combat using type advantages in order to defeat your opponents. There are two main differences in this game however (aside form a whole new type chart to learn) which are double battles and stamina. Firstly every single battle in the game takes place with two TemTem active at a time, similar to the Pokemon gamecube adventures, meaning that battles can often take a bit longer but have a lot more room for creativity when it comes to combo strategies and combining certain kinds of TemTem to create more powerful attacks. Secondly rather than focusing on a Power Point system which limits move usage this game opts to focus on a stamina system instead. How it works is that every move your creature uses has an amount of stamina it uses and when your creature depletes it’s stamina meter it damages itself and becomes unable to do anything for one turn until it rests. This encourages a lot more critical thinking in what moves you use rather than just spamming your most powerful attacks at your enemy. This also emphasises another important aspect to this game in which it attempts to remove as much randomness to the battling system as possible. No random critical hits, no damage variation and no moves that rely mainly on luck to win. This is to promote a more competitive aspect to this game’s battling mechanics as Crema has made clear that they want to make the endgame to be full of competitive battles and tournaments in order to create a more fair and less rage-inducing multiplayer environment which I highly praise. This game also really challenges you at times as the battles you fight are usually around the higher levels and strategies used can be downright terrifying to behold. I will fully admit that I wiped out playing this game so many more times than I have in any Pokemon game and the game isn’t even finished yet!
There are issues in the current iteration of the game thus far however. As part of that increased difficulty I mentioned earlier I have found that I have had to EXP grind a lot more during the story which is not a fun activity to force upon people in order to beat certain bosses however I would say that’s more of a personal preference over everything. What isn’t a preference however is this game’s lack of true MMO features at the current moment. As I mentioned before this is, at heart, an MMO experience so people are running around you and can trade/battle with you at any point simply by speaking to you but despite this there is a surprising lack of features surrounding this aspect of the game. No chat features, no auction houses and no real location to spend endgame around while we wait for new content and the rest of the story (however these features will be added at a later date). Because of this the game doesn’t feel truly like an MMO and yet I would feel as though the people running around me actually distracted me more from enjoying my personal story so as a result I actually feel as though this game would have benefited more from being just a single player experience with the MMO/multiplayer features left for areas near the end of the game similar to how Pokemon handles it. You can’t both have a large living world filled with other players running around you and also have a personal journey in a creature collecting game without causing conflict at various points. Finally there are indeed some technical problems at the moment such as some sounds/animations being placeholder and certain bugs being an irritance however these are things that will be sorted out over time as the game develops and exits our of Early Access so as such I won’t hold it against them at this stage.
Despite all I have said I really have enjoyed my time playing TemTem. I really do think that if they develop this carefully and fully polish all the features and mechanics throughout the experience that this could be a contender for Pokemon’s throne. Perhaps not in the cultural sense but ever since Sword/Shield the competitive and hardcore audience has been clamouring for a properly challenging and rewarding creature capturing experience and I believe this could be it. There’s a lot more content to be added over the coming months so I will wait in anticipation for the continuation of the story and extension of features currently present in the game. I can’t wait to make my mono-mental type team and become the master of the mind against all others!