In the last few years, we’ve seen a saturation of monster-taming games on Nintendo Switch looking to take a piece of the Pokémon pie. I should know, I’ve played plenty of them, and while I’ve mostly had a good time, there’s always been that something missing, whether it be a bit of innovation or that touch of charm that the catch-’em-all series has always had in bundles.
Now Temtem is here, and things are a little different. Crema first announced the game back in 2018 via a Crowdfunding campaign that ended up raising almost ten times its original goal, the title has been a long-time in the making, with a Steam early access version of the game available for the last two years. The final result is something that should be celebrated as quite possibly the best monster-tamer I’ve ever played that isn’t out of Game Freak.
Before I get into my plaudits, and there‘s a long list of plaudits here, let me give you a little context for what to expect in Temtem’s archipelago islands in the sky. Crema’s game lifts the core of the Pokémon framework, with three starting monsters to decide between, wild creatures to capture and add to your party of six, and a wealth of in-game battles to put your team to the test.
Let’s start with those wild creatures. I love them. The monster design in Temtem is the strongest I’ve seen across a host of similar monster-taming titles, with cute critters and terrifying titans in equal measure. For your starter Temtem you can pick between the crystal-type turtle Crystle, the melee-type monkey Smazee, or the peculiar mental-type Houchic, and all three have three-tier evolution lines that follow the formula of adorable beginnings into monstrous fully evolved forms.
The designs are a little more understated than I’ve seen in other monster-taming titles, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a touch of the first generation of Pokémon about the Temtem designs, with a lot of obvious animal inspirations for the creatures you find in the wild. Pigepic, for instance, is just a pig with wings, but it’s a charming little thing I quickly added to my team until I found another Temtem I just had to have (so, maybe five minutes later?)
The quaint Temtem designs match up perfectly with the colourful and varied world of Temtem’s Airborne Archipelago. Split into six diverse biomes that range from desolate deserts, verdant green fields filled with trainers, and toxic wastelands filled with danger, there’s plenty to explore as you set off on your trainer adventure. Each area lends itself neatly to a specific group of Temtem types, with a spread of wild creatures that make it feel like you’re always finding something new after leaving the first main route. Better still, you travel from island to island by airship, which gives the impression of a real sense of scope in the size of Temtem’s game world.
The gimmick that separates Temtem from its contemporaries is that every battle is a double battle, pitting the duo at the top of your party against two wild or enemy Temtem in a rock-paper-scissors system that dials up the strategy when compared to titles like Nexomon or Coromon. To make things even more interesting, Temtem is one of the few monster-taming titles I’ve played with dual typing, adding another layer of tactical depth with a host of types that will have you searching for a damage calculator. For reference, those Temtem typings do differ from what you might expect from Pokémon, so be sure to hunt down a type chart before finding out the hard way.
I can say in all honesty that I haven’t been challenged with a monster-tamer like Temtem in a long time, with the difficulty well above that of what you might expect in a Pokémon title or your run-of-the-mill RPG. This is, of course, an active decision made by the developers to answer the calls of all those looking for a suped-up challenge when compared with similar titles out of the last few years, but it never feels unfair, and if anything pushes you to understand your Temtem’s moves and abilities on a level that other monster-orientated RPGs rarely require.
The overarching narrative found in Temtem is similar to other monster-tamers in that its plot serves as a device to explore new lands, find new Temtem, and take on the various dojos (this game’s gym leader challenge equivalent) scattered around the Airborne Archipelago. It’s a pretty linear experience, with each island unlocking after a certain level of story progression, but this means you experience the best of each location before you’re moved on, and there are plenty of side quests and hidden areas to keep you checking out every corner of the in-game world.
Some elements of the story do feel a little too lifted from the pages of Pokémon lore, with the Team Rocket stand-in Clan Belsoto never quite engaging enough to stand out as a villainous threat worthy of all the rigmarole you go through to take them on. It’s here that the charm fades a little, even if the tongue-in-cheek dialogue does go a way to lighten the mood, but it would be nice to see a different threat to a monster-filled world than one markedly similar to that of Pokémon.
On the other hand, It’s clear that Crema has listened to some of the complaints about Game Freak’s series of games closely, as its own monster hunter title makes a big effort to include mechanics that Pokémon fans have been asking for for years. For instance, you can change your moves and check your SVs and TVs (the equivalent of EV and IV stats) from the party menu, which is much more convenient than trying to do the same even in contemporary Pokémon games, and this usability lends itself in particular to the competitive scene.
I have to pause to talk about Temtem’s competitive elements because no other monster-tamer has made quite the effort that Crema has to make its game suitable for hours of online play. Breeding, training, and even finding luma Temtem (the shiny equivalent) is less of a dark art than it is in Pokémon, with dialled-on methods to create a party worthy of competitive battle. Even in the early-access period of Temtem’s launch, I’ve had some exciting and excruciating online battles, and it’s definitely where this game shines the brightest.
There’s a point to be made in that Crema’s enthusiasm to fill the game with as many mechanics as possible does make for an occasionally convoluted experience as you try and find your way back to a specific location, like Saipark (a safari park equivalent), one of the three in-game auction houses, or a specific mission area. This isn’t helped by a lack of a reliable fast-travel method in certain periods of the game, making it a bit of a pain to revisit locations for side-quests or hunt down a Temtem you might have missed.
However, I think it’s fair to give Crema the benefit of the doubt on this occasion, and you can hardly fault the development team for trying to give people what they want, it’s just that it can be a little overwhelming at points. Once you do get your head around all the intricacies and possibilities of Temtem’s mechanics there’s plenty of fun to be had – if like me your idea of fun is hours of move testing, stat calculating, and strategising – with a depth that you will struggle to find anywhere else.
What I find a little harder to forgive is some of the connection issues I experienced on Switch at launch, with at least two crashes on my first night with Temtem. In Crema’s defence, the robust auto-save feature does mean you never lose any progress through the MMO experience, but it can be tedious to close and restart the application when the loading screens are somewhere between medium-to-long for what I might expect to wait.
The in-game performance, connection issues aside, is absolutely fine. I’ve had one or two little stuttery moments in heavily populated areas, but no real issue with lag or control inputs. It plays well, with a controller dynamic that makes walking, surfing, and flying around under the Pigepic mount you can and should purchase in the store all feel different enough to differentiate.
All in all, Temtem is a challenging monster-taming game that finally makes the genre feel worthwhile and worthy of not just being referred to as Pokémon-like. Of course, the Game Freak framework is where most of Temtem finds its foundation, but it builds on its inspiration like few games have managed, especially those out of the monster-taming genre. I still doubt whether a small Spanish studio like Crema can muster the resources to become a competitor to Pokémon in the long run, but from my time with Temtem, I know that it has the capability.
Temtem Switch review
Temtem offers a monster-taming title that has enough to tear us away from the king of the genre, with an attention to detail across all elements from monster design to competitive online battles. With a little more charm, and a few quality-of-life improvements to the solo experience and the MMO aspect, this could be the closest the Pokémon series has ever come to a real challenge to its monster-taming monopoly.