I choose two!
Although recently released creature-collecting MMO Temtem borrows a lot from a lovely little series you may have heard of called Pokemon, it also takes pains to distinguish itself from the most profitable entertainment franchise of all time.
One such diversion is Temtem’s unwavering commitment to double battles, to the extent that single battles have been entirely purged from its format. As Kallie Plagge mentioned in her piece on what Pokemon can learn from Temtem, that’s a good thing.
Doubles is the most prestigious category in competitive Pokemon circuits--in fact, it is the official format for Pokemon’s VGC (Video Game Championship) tournaments. However, many Pokemon fans will have rarely experienced the dynamic of double battles outside of the few-and-far-between instances in single-player, which is why it’s significant that Temtem has adopted the format exclusively.
Doubles is also much faster than singles, as noted by Pokemon commentator and ex-pro player Gabby Snyder. "Having two Pokemon on the field at once opens up a lot of strategies or combinations that aren't possible when you're playing singles," Snyder explains. "For example, there are several strategies popular in the VGC 2020 metagame where one of your Pokemon uses an attack on your other Pokemon to strengthen its attack or defense. I like that the options for your turn on the field aren't always linear--thinking outside of the box and being rewarded for it is a lot of fun to watch."
In competitive Pokemon, the standard doubles format has each player prepare a team of six 'mons, and based on a preview of their opponent's team, they each pick four to bring to the actual battle. 4v4 may not seem like an overly complex affair, but with type matchups, synergies, and meta counters to take into account, an unquantifiable amount of permutations soon arise. “It really makes the games dynamic as you have to bring four Pokémon that can theoretically deal with all six of your opponent's Pokemon,” 2020 Latin America International Champion James Baek told me.
"In singles it’s very easy to switch in new Pokemon and not get punished for it," pro player Ashton Cox tells me. Cox has been the points leader in North America for most of the last four years, as well as having two Latin American and regional championships under his belt. "In doubles, if you choose to switch, you need to take attacks from two Pokémon, which makes you think more and have more complex plays."
Baek, who has been playing Pokemon competitively and professionally since 2014, recently qualified for his seventh consecutive World Championship after coming in third place last year. “Having two Pokemon out on the field instead of one creates more options each turn,” Baek explains. Naturally, an increase in your own available options implies one in your opponent’s, which means for every play you make, you also need to be thinking about counters--and down the rabbit hole you go.
“Doubles allows more options to thrive, as the need for Pokemon to support their partners gives more Pokemon unique niches that they can fulfill,” Alessio “Yuree” Boschetto echoes. Yuree is a VGC champion who finished 2018 as first in the world in Championship points, and has competed in every single competitive season since 2014. He explains that some moves are emphatically built for doubles and are significantly worse, if not entirely useless, in singles. “Pokémon sometimes have roles they will perform specifically when next to one of their partners, either because the partners can support them defensively by redirecting or using Fake Out, or just by taking out the threats thanks to offensive synergy,” he said. “Preserving win conditions in this way is how you win games. Good type coverage is almost a must for a team to thrive in a metagame--even though there are some exceptions.”
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Exceptions are the key here because exceptions breed interest. By emphasizing doubles over singles, Temtem embraces the complexities and depth of double battles that largely fly under the radar in Pokemon games--at least in single player--to the extent that Temtem has particular mechanics to suit doubles play that Pokemon doesn't.
Because Temtem removes the unpredictable aspects of RNG that often have major impacts on Pokemon VGC, such as critical hits and status effects that last for an arbitrary amount of turns. Because of this, prediction becomes more reliable, which, by extension, makes matches tenser. Combining this with Temtem's Synergy, a phenomenon that significantly boosts a team's damage output if both Temtems on the field share a common type, makes switch-ins, a core tenet of the Pokemon metagame, far riskier--and potentially more interesting as a result. On top of this, certain Temtems such as Oceara have access to special moves that gain extra effects if their partner Temtem is of a specifically different type to them. For example, Oceara has a Water move that inflicts Burn damage when partnered with a Fire Tem, and its signature move, Tsunami, deals a sizable amount of extra damage when used alongside Hurricane, a Wind-move.
Even though Pokemon as a whole is not as doubles-focused as Temtem is, Snyder definitely has faith in the continued momentum of doubles as a structure. "The outside of the box thinking I mentioned above is definitely my favorite part of playing in a doubles format, but I also enjoy the fact that there are so many ways you can accomplish that way of thinking," she said. "Whether it's via setting up Weather or Terrain so your attacks are boosted, or using one Pokemon to disrupt another to provide an opening, the overall strategy of doubles is something I really enjoy. There are even some moments I can remember where I was watching a match and one of the players did something completely unexpected, and I got really excited because of it. It's so much fun to watch and play because of that."
Doubles may sound intimidatingly complex, especially for those who have yet to play Temtem and never battled on the competitive Pokemon doubles circuit. Although the seemingly endless amount of possibilities combined with a chess-like approach to prediction and riposte may seem like a lot to take in, Temtem’s normalization of the doubles structure allows players to automatically adjust to it before ever having to participate in a Ranked Battle. And, given that ranked Temtem will almost definitely be doubles-only, this makes genuinely competitive ladders accessible, enticing, and, hopefully, enduring.