Nintendo’s first big bet of the holiday season, Yo-kai Watch, is both an established property and a virtual unknown. The supernatural Yo-kai can make you laugh, cry, and fart, but can they make their way into your family’s 3DS systems? Read on to find out.
Okay, I give up; what’s Yo-kai Watch?
Yo-kai Watch, while brand new here in the States, is already a very popular Japanese property. Some have even gone so far as to call it the next Pokémon. This week marks the launch of the first domestic entry in the game franchise, and, since it’s Nintendo-published and developed by the always amazing team at Level-5 (Professor Layton, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch), the production value and overall polish is really top notch.
So is it anything like Pokémon?
It certainly has a similar monster-catching/RPG-lite aesthetic. Plus the cut-scenes, breezy dialog, and even the game world, which nicely blends the mundane and the magical, give it a comparable feel. Also, since it’s such a powerful property back home, there’s a veritable army of related games and other merch waiting in the wings. There’s even an all-ages Yo-kai Watch anime, which certainly lends it to further Pokémon comparisons.
There’s a cartoon?
There is. It premiered on Disney XD last month, but have no fear, my fellow cord-cutters; this week it was announced that the series will also be made freely available via the official Yo-kai Watch YouTube channel. The pilot episode is up right now.
Yeah, but what’s a Yo-kai?
Simply put, Yo-kai are ghosts–just not in a Ringu or Ju-On: The Grudge sense. Instead, they are supernatural beings of Japanese legend and folklore that reflect elements of the natural world or prevailing cultural memes. Some manifest as animals, like the popular cat Jibanyan, while other represent everything from emotions to the common cold to uncontrollable flatulence.
That sounds super Japanese-y.
It is, but it’s far from a genuinely foreign concept. The game unfolds as your player character discovers an abandoned capsule machine (basically a jumbo Japanese gumball machine that dispenses collectible toys) in the forest. He pops in a coin, but what comes out is the Yo-kai Whisper. Calling himself your “ghost butler,” Whisper charges you with the task of dealing with the Yo-kai currently causing mischief in your town using that titular timepiece, the Yo-kai Watch. As you explore the game world, you find and battle more and more fantastical creatures, and sometimes, once defeated, they ask to be your friend and give you their summoning medal for your watch, further strengthening your growing roster of rotating, evolving Yo-kai. Sure, the cultural touchstones are a little different than our own, but it’s really just another story of a regular kid on an unexpected, epic adventure.
Will my kids like it?
Mine certainly do. Hell, my children played the demo for hours on end! This game really has a lot to offer, especially for the younger player. In addition to exploring the game world and locating hidden Yo-kai, there are additional diversions like fishing and bug collecting that actually feel perfectly at home within this particular property. The visual style is truly engaging, especially for those already hooked on the cartoon, and everything from the infectious music to the heavily touchscreen-centered control scheme seems engineered to make this game exceptionally accessible.
But is it, like, scary?
Not really. There is an element unlocked a few hours into the game called “Terror Time” that takes place during nighttime play. It hinges on escaping from Oni (demons) as you navigate the darkened streets. These are powerful enemies that can easily waylay your more common Yo-kai, but, while admittedly a little intense, the Oni, as well as some of the later themed level bosses, are more creepy than startling–likely only prone to frighten the timidest of geeklings.
What about adult gamers? Will we enjoy it?
I’m really of two minds concerning Yo-kai Watch. On the one hand, this is a gorgeous, fun multimedia property aimed squarely at the grade school set. On the other, there is definitely some depth to the game’s real-time combat. Like Pokémon before them, each Yo-kai falls into an established type, with specific strengths and weaknesses. One way to use these types to your advantage is to position the same type of Yo-kai together on the six-space rotating combat wheel that serves as your active party. You can have three Yo-kai (half of said wheel) actively fighting in tandem. They attack automatically, but once their power gauge fills you can unleash a specialty Soultimate attack by manipulating the touchscreen–sometimes by popping bubbles, other times by “spinning” a disk around, and sometimes by tracing a number of symbols with your stylus. The touchscreen can also be used to target specific enemies, heal your Yo-kai or administer buffs, restore stunned (“Inspirited”) Yo-kai, or even capture the helpful orbs that occasionally fly through a battle. In short, there is a lot going on during combat, to the point where it almost becomes a resource management thing. Anyone, adult or child, can get the hang of it, but strategy nerds–even grown-up strategy nerds–will appreciate the deceptive depth of Yo-kai Watch.
Do you need anything else to play?
You’re talking about amiibo, aren’t you? No–the answer is no. There are no amiibo available for or supported by Yo-kai Watch. What there is, however, is a ton of import toys, manga, and accessories. Some of these, specifically the real-world versions of the game’s Yo-kai medals, contain QR codes that can be scanned in and exchanged for coins to be used at the Crank-a-Kai capsule machine. (You can also use your 3DS Play Coins the same way.) Mostly, though, they’re for traditional, analog play. All you really need to enjoy Yo-kai Watch is a copy of the game and a 3DS, 2DS, or 3DS XL system.
So, pick up or pass?
I honestly can’t help but recommend you pick this one up. Yo-kai Watch is super weird, and not just because of all the uniquely Japanese leanings that we westerners simply have to accept without fretting over–like perpetually hungry grandpas and the game’s dogged insistence that you don’t jaywalk. It’s a weird game in a weird world, but it’s near flawless execution makes that read as “quirky” as opposed to “off-putting.” Sometimes challenging, generally engaging, and always uniquely charming, Yo-kai Watch manages to be an exemplary family gaming experience.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America