Temtem, an upcoming MMO inspired by Pokemon, is still very much a work-in-progress. In its current state, there are still balance issues to be fixed, facades of buildings that need filling out, and more work to do to get the game fully up and running. But already, Temtem has revealed some clever twists on the Pokemon formula–and more than just letting you battle alongside friends.

Like every core Pokemon game, in Temtem, you start with a titular creature and head out on a journey to battle and collect more of them. In the recent closed alpha, I was able to join up with a friend almost immediately after getting my first Temtem, and it was seamless and easy to explore and battle together in real-time (though we used Discord for voice chat). The sheer novelty of doing Pokemon-style double battles alongside another human player, rather than controlling both creatures on the field yourself, was exciting–it’s something that Pokemon players have wanted for some time, and it’s one of the big features that Temtem offers as a direct competitor.

And Temtem handles it well, too, in terms of battling. Most Temtem battles are 2v2, as opposed to Pokemon, which largely has you in one-on-one situations during the story. You have a six-Temtem party of your own, and in a co-op battle, you each can use only the first three Temtem from that party with one in battle each at a time. You get to coordinate with your buddy as to what Temtem you want in your combined party, any strategy ideas, and then how you execute each turn–in short, it gets you engaged in teamwork. You can also switch out one of your Temtem during battle in favor of your friend’s, though they’ll control both monsters at once.

Some Temtem have moves that really capitalize on this coordination. While Pokemon have support moves that can boost each other in double battles, there are currently no moves in Pokemon that get a boost just because of who your partner is. In Temtem, however, some moves have “synergy” effects when the right Temtem is in battle with you. For example, there’s one move called Urushiol that gets a power and effect boost if your partner is a Toxic type. While you could use synergy by yourself, it was fun to both discover these kinds of moves and execute on a strategy with a friend.

Temtem still needs to be balanced further, but so far, it is also way harder than any recent Pokemon game, even when you’re playing with someone else. Part of that is certainly because I don’t yet know what all the Temtem are, how their types work, or any of the intricacies of the game, but we were really on the verge of death around halfway through Temtem’s equivalent of Route 1. Understanding synergy (or any of the type matchups, even) was not advanced but essential knowledge even in the beginning, which was a refreshing challenge.

The main downside to co-op, like in any game that has a non-zero amount of dialogue, is that it’s hard to coordinate when you’re chatting and when you’re reading. I ended up clicking through quite a bit of dialogue just so my friend wouldn’t get bored waiting for me, and we barely explored the towns or talked to NPCs. It made me wish that Temtem had strayed from Pokemon’s formula significantly here, since running around the tall grass and battling in co-op works well, at least in concept.

So yes, it would be awesome to battle alongside a friend in Pokemon. But more than that, I would love to see Pokemon adopt Temtem’s synergy mechanic, which could potentially add a fresh dimension to competitive Pokemon battles that doesn’t rely on going bigger and stronger–like Dynamax and even Z-Moves and Mega Evolutions before it. Double battles are my favorite format, and I also just love to see Temtem embracing it as the default, while adding a bit more challenge to suit the depth of strategy that doubles affords. Whether Temtem can fully capture my heart the way Pokemon has remains to be seen.

Temtem is scheduled to release in Early Access on Steam on January 21, 2020.

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