We'll start by saying that, yes, Temtem does borrow a lot from Pokémon. It's pretty hard to talk about Crema Games' early access adventure without bringing up the enormously successful Nintendo franchise, but we'll keep comparisons to a minimum. However, if you're a fan of the latter, this game is more or less another one, only it's on PlayStation 5.
So, let's start fresh. Temtem is a colourful RPG in which you collect, trade, and battle the titular monsters. After creating a custom character, your journey as a Temtem tamer begins. Rather than engaging in combat yourself, this world is all about gathering a party of powerful creatures that will fight for you. After you choose one of three Temtem to get you started, you'll set off on a lengthy quest to become the very best, like no one ever was.
We've played the game for a good five or six hours, so can only vouch for the early stages. As you might expect, it starts fairly slowly, introducing you to catching and battling Temtem. While it can initially all feel very derivative, there are some ways it differentiates itself.
The most obvious thing to note is how the turn-based battles work. Fights are a little more tactical here for various reasons. For starters, they're largely two vs. two, and which pair of creatures you send out could play into some synergies you can utilise. Certain moves will have additional effects if the allied Temtem is of a certain type, outputting more damage for instance. Knowing how all the elemental types interact with each other is key — not just to learn the strengths and weaknesses, but also to figure out the best pairings.
You also have to think about move priority and stamina. Some attacks will have higher priority over others, and this (along with speed stats) will dictate the order in which moves are played out. Meanwhile, instead of a limited number of uses for each technique, they all use up an amount of stamina. This matters because Temtem recoup some stamina at the start of each turn, but will have to recover if they run out. There's some strategy in working out how to maximise a turn's potential, considering priority and stamina among the usual aspects like stats and health, and it makes for slightly more complex fights.
While we're on the subject of combat, one quality of life feature we really like is that you have access to your Temtem's entire move pools at all times. When a monster levels up and learns a new attack, you can equip it straight away or decide not to. In either case, you don't lose a move, it's simply added to a list you can access at any time, allowing you to swap between attacks. It means your monsters have much more flexible move sets, and you don't need to worry about losing out. There are a few examples of smart decisions like this that smooth out the experience. Another is quests — your pinned objectives will appear on the right of the screen, so you always know what you're working towards.
However, one area where Pokémon will always come out on top is creature designs. There are hundreds and hundreds of 'mons created by Game Freak, and while some are duds, the majority are great. From what we've seen thus far, Temtem's monsters are just not in the same league. They're not terrible, but we've not really been all that excited by any of the creatures yet. There are 100 in the game so far with more to come — this is early access after all — so there's every chance we could be swayed by later additions.
And that's an important thing to mention; this isn't a finished game at this stage. We literally came across a building we couldn't enter because the developer is still working on it. This means that some criticisms we have could well be addressed in the future. Things like poor signposting in certain parts of the game, pretty flat writing, and some forgettable characters are present now, but that might not be the case when we get to the full launch.
One thing that might need more work is introducing the player to the MMO half of the game. Yes, this is a fully online world, and you'll see other players running around, but what's strange is that this huge aspect of Temtem is, from our experience, never touched on. The map is suddenly populated with others, and while you can interact with them, you're never encouraged to, or told how. Again, this might be made clearer later into the game, but we were expecting the massively multiplayer side of things to feel more important than it does. All the options are there in the menus — you can engage in friendly or ranked battles, trade Temtem, and more — but you have to go looking for it.
Overall, we're pretty happy with the game so far. While it treads some very familiar ground, it's making some subtle changes to set itself apart. There's still work to be done to fix its flaws and finish off later content, but what's here is a pleasant, fun creature collection RPG. It's a solid start, so let's hope the final version goes the right direction.