Temtem Review: A Challenging Twist on Monster Catching RPGs
Child meets monster, leaves town on an adventure, and saves the world in their spare time. The formula is one we've seen multiple times since Game Freak first loosed Pokemon on the world, and while Temtem may stick a bit too closely to that basic concept, there's a clever and rewarding RPG underneath those similarities.
Temtem begins on a note familiar to most Pokemon-alikes. You, a young critter enthusiast, wake up on a momentous day. The moment you meet your first Temtem is here at last, so off you go to impose yourself on the local professor, yet another academic expert who sets up shop in a backwoods hamlet.
The story unfolds as you might expect. A nefarious group of ne'er-do-wells who see Temtem as tools get up to some mischief that only you can stop, and your end goal is defeating the region’s top trainers – er, tamers – and claiming the title of champion for your own.
Temtem wears its Pokemon inspirations a little too proudly in this regard. Game Freak’s legendary franchise popularized the genre, so the appeal of adopting this model is fairly evident, even if it does miss the opportunity to create something more interesting. If you want a meatier RPG story, Monster Crown or the older Dragon Quest Monsters entries should be your go to games.
As far as mechanics, Temtem differentiates itself from other critter catchers in some surprising ways as soon as your journey begins. Your three starter Temtem are equivalent to Pokemon’s Psychic, Fighting, and Rock types, which opens some much more interesting and detailed battle options than you get with the usual introductory Grass, Water, and Fire types. Picking Houchic, for example, gets you a status effect move and a powerful special attack from the start.
Designs are a bit of a mixed bag, though critiquing any monster catcher comes with the obvious baggage of personal bias. Saying Crystle the Crystal Temtem seems a bit tacky completely overlooks the fact that Pokemon's equivalent Rock type is literally a well-coifed stone called Geodude, and most of us were fine with that at the time.
Personal preference aside, what stands out about Temtem's design is how fresh and exciting the game's overall visual direction is. Few games have such a bold look, and it does more to set Temtem apart even compared to its combat systems.
The other, even more interesting mechanic unique to Temtem is stamina. Pokemon, Coromon, and the like use a familiar point-based system to determine what moves you can use, and unleashing attacks gradually drains your points until you replenish them with items. Temtem uses a fluid system. Every move costs a set amount of stamina, which you can recover either naturally over time or in larger proportions by skipping a turn.
It results in a surprisingly deep and satisfying combat system, even if the learning curve is a steep one.
Temtem expects you to make the most of every turn. You might face the Temtem version of Rattata and other bland early-game monsters, but unlike the humble Pidgey, these creatures can, and will, hurt you badly. Crema took complaints about Pokemon’s easy difficulty to heart and made Temtem significantly more difficult.
Part of that difficulty spike is built into the combat system. Every Temtem battle is a double battle, meaning you face two opponents and have to use two Temtem – or you must coordinate with your partner tamer and use one each. Balancing support attacks and targeting the right foe at the right time is key to battle strategies, and the end result is a deep and satisfying combat system – albeit one that gets in its own way at times.
In trying to solve the Pokemon difficulty issue by making Temtem difficult, Crema overlooked the core of Pokemon’s problem – having no options. Winning a difficult monster battle is intensely satisfying, but after a while, the grind starts to wear the experience down.
Tough battles against key tamers are fine. Getting wiped out by your average schmo? Not so much. And it's even less fun considering tamers are thrown at you in bunches, so you can face nearly a dozen opponents in a single short stretch.
Including the option to tone difficulty down could have made an important difference in how enjoyable Temtem remains from about the midpoint on, especially for people who don’t have much time to grind.
Those who do make it to the endgame and beyond have a nice surprise in store. Unlike most monster catchers, Temtem features a robust player-versus-player scene and intense competitive matches that make the most of the deep combat system. You can start trying to climb the ranks from the beginning, but the real challenge comes from the endgame. Taking on the most powerful tamers means digging into Temtem’s impressive breeding system, making the most of your critters’ attributes, move pools, and team pairings.
Temtem Review — The Bottom Line
- Rewarding combat.
- Fresh, ambitious visuals.
- Excellent PvP system.
- No difficulty options.
- Very grindy, especially after the halfway point.
- Still adheres a bit too closely to the Pokemon formula.
Temtem may play a lot like Pokemon on the surface, but a suite of tweaks to the battle system, exciting visual design, and heavy emphasis on PvP more than make up for the similarities with it and other monster catchers. While a deeper story would certainly be welcome, Temtem is a unique and rewarding experience for those with the patience to master its intricacies.
[Note: The writer previously purchased the version of Temtem used for this review.]