Announced amid the many controversies that surrounded the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield, Temtem, an MMORPG creature-collector developed by Crema, quickly earned the unofficial moniker of “the Pokémon killer.” Sadly, despite receiving a great deal of support from embittered Pokémon fans who hoped the game would become a worthy rival to Nintendo’s most successful franchise, Temtem’s 2020 release would be met with little fanfare and limited commercial success, ultimately plunging the game into obscurity.
In failing to make so much as a dent in Pokémon’s popularity or profits Temtem has joined a long list of so-called “Pokémon clones” that have tried to replicate the franchise’s iconic feel while putting a unique spin on the monster catching and battling RPG subgenre. However, while it may not have become the “Pokémon killer” some wanted it to be, Temtem still enjoys a decent following of enthusiastic fans, and the modest success of it and other Pokémon-esque titles proves that there’s a place for other creature-gathering games in the modern gaming market.
The release of Pokémon Red and Green in 1996 took the world by storm, and it took less than a year for other video game companies to begin creating their own creature-collecting games to try and cash in on Pokémon’s success. Not only did the “Pokémania” craze see the creation of original monster-battling franchises like Metabots and Digimon, but it also inspired well-established RPG franchises like Shin Megami Tensei and Dragon Quest to release spin-off mobile games that intentionally modeled themselves after Pokémon’s formula, right down to releasing multiple versions of the same game and making a handful of monsters unique to each version.
Like many of the “Pokémon clones” that came before it, Temtem didn’t pretend it wasn’t inspired by Pokémon, with the game’s website openly acknowledging Game Freak’s tent pole franchise as its primary influence. Sadly, while it was clear to most that Temtem was trying to respectfully pay tribute to Pokémon, the hostility that many fans felt towards Sword and Shield warped their perception of the game. Convincing themselves that this new “hot-blooded contender” was trying to usurp Pokémon’s throne, some rallied behind Temtem, only to discard it like an unwanted Caterpie once it became clear the game couldn’t fulfill the “destiny” they had unfairly placed on its shoulders.
However, despite what some Pokémon fans may have believed, Temtem wasn’t trying to be “the new Pokémon,” and that interpretation of the game ignores everything Temtem does to set itself apart from Pokémon and other monster-fighting RPGs. From its unique Stamina system to it’s greater focus on worldbuilding, Temtem goes to great lengths to set itself apart from Pokémon. While there are more than a few uncanny similarities between the titles in items of gameplay, monster design, and story progression, it’s still more original than other creature-collection games that have blatantly copied Game Freak’s formula and hidden it behind a new coat of paint.
Rather than try and copy of the Pokémon experience, Temtem to refined one of the many elements that make up a Pokémon game. Through its unique mix of RPG and digital pet raising elements, Pokémon has amassed a fan following as diverse as it is massive, but that same diversity has caused issues in recent years. Recent Pokémon releases attempt to centralize gameplay mechanics and make the experience more accessible to newcomers which, while admirable, has alienate some longtime fans who want more challenge from their games.
This growing discontent among Pokémon fans has ushered in a renaissance of Pokémon-inspired games, many of which have deviated from the established formula rather than copy it beat-for-beat. It’s led to a number of unique games that have fine-tuned the various individual elements that come together to make Pokémon so unique. For instance, Moi Roi Games’ Monster Sanctuary puts greater focus on RPG elements, and Level-5’s Yokai Watch series forgoes an in-depth battle system in favor of focusing on the charming task of raising friendly spirits.
With the upcoming release of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet already courting controversy among some factions of the Pokémon fandom, niche monster-fighting RPGs like Temtem have a better chance to shine than ever before. Even if it failed to achieve the same wide-spread critical and commercial success that Game Freak’s juggernaut has achieved, Temtem managed to create a unique RPG experience that has attracted a loyal following of players who appreciate it for what it is rather than for what it could have been.