TemTem Provides What Pokemon Could Not

It’s a widely-expressed opinion that Pokemon Sword and Shield did not live up to expectations as the first main series Pokemon game on the Ninetndo Switch. With games like Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild taking over the gaming industry, GameFreak had a lot of expectations to deliver a masterpiece given their being the largest media franchise on the planet. Instead, Pokemon Sword and Shield looked like a cash grab to capitalize on the massive Pokemon market.

For now at least, Pokemon’s legacy lives through TemTem, a new MMORPG that advertises itself as “Pokemon-like.” The similarities are pretty obvious. You catch TemTems (Pokemon) using TemCards (Pokeballs) and they upload to your Tempedia (Pokedex). You travel the world, fighting dojos (gyms) and stopping the plans of the local bad guys, Clan Belsoto (Team Rocket). The parallels are obvious, and TemTem makes no attempt to hide the fact.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, TemTem is a charming gameplay experience that gives a fresh take on the Pokemon franchise. The world is large and genuinely immersive, with each objective feeling like an actual journey. The TemTems themselves also have fun designs that pull from all sorts of inspirations, although TemTems generally fall short in terms of cute designs, whereas Pokemon had plenty.

The scene of each battle is set exquisitely by the music. Pokemon music was usually hit or miss, but TemTem managed to bring quality songs to every situation. Against random trainers, the music is as if you’re battling a friend, like you would see in the intro to a Pokemon movie. The battles with Belsoto carry a sinister vibe, while the dojo leader themes have the feel of an epic clash between champion and challenger.

The combat is where TemTem sets itself apart. The combat is still turn-based, but each battle is 2v2. Instead of relying on the PP in Pokemon where you can use each move a predetermined number of times and it doesn’t feel like it has any impact, TemTems are limited by stamina, and each move uses a set number. More powerful moves generally use more stamina, but it becomes about optimization between move power and conserving that stamina, which has been one of my favorite parts of the game. In desperation, TemTem can over-exert themselves by using too much stamina which could damage or even kill them outright. The unique 2v2 setup along with having to learn TemTem types and type matchups provide a challenging yet rewarding experience.

The developers themselves help provide an element of wit when exploring the world. At times, they make fun of the Pokemon tendencies of just entering people’s houses with NPCs who are either confused or angry.  Players also get the opportunity to exchange dialogue with most NPCs and trainers they meet. Even if the end result is the same, it gives the player the ability to have their own personality in game.

Between the combat system and the dialogue, it’s clear that even if GameFreak steps up their game, TemTem has carved itself a unique title that has its place in gaming. GameFreak is restricted by both the company standards of Nintendo as well as the cultural standards of Japan, meaning they can’t provide an experience that feels as casual and comfortable as that of small time developers. This is a trend among the top indie games such as Hollow Knight which carve out niches for themselves due in no small part to the freedom of being an independent developer.

TemTem is in early access, which means the full game isn’t even available yet. Just three of the six islands and roughly half of the planned TemTem are available at this moment. Community reception has been overwhelmingly positive, with many citing TemTem as what Pokemon could have been. The first three islands were a refreshing taste of what it meant to truly care for the product instead of the money. If the rest of the game can stand up to the impressive start, TemTem might be a new home for Pokemon fans as well as everyone just looking for a new experience.