Who you gonna call to solve all of your mischievous spirit woes? A young kid with a magic watch, of course!
The marketing juggernaut that is Yo-Kai Watch is set to engulf the hearts and minds of UK children, and the first Yo-Kai Watch game from the Professor Layton guys, Level-5, has now been set free in the wild.
Attempting to mimic the success of the Pokemon franchise, Yo-Kai Watch has already been a massive success in Japan, with the anime show, movies, the third game coming soon, and an absolute bucket load of merchandise. Whether or not the series will make the same impact over here in the UK, only time will tell.
Given the marketing and the similarity of the approach, it is easy to imagine that the Yo-Kai Watch game is just a different version of the Pokemon games, but that isn’t really the case. Sure, the player will find and collect Yo-Kai, Japanese spirits, in massive numbers and then use them to battle other “wild” Yo-Kai, and they will wander around an impressive world, in this case the large town of Springdale, meeting and helping interesting characters. But in reality, this loose premise is where the similarities finish.
The player begins by choosing to play as either a girl or a boy, which is always a nice touch, who happens to be taking part in a bug catching competition. However, before long they stumble upon a Yo-Kai called Whisper, who will serve to act as a guide of sorts in the hidden world of Yo-Kai. Giving the players’ character a magical watch which can not only allow the player to see other Yo-Kai, but also interact with them, our young hero sets out into the town of Springdale to try and fix all of the problems that Yo-Kai are causing, mostly by fighting and befriending the massive number of Yo-Kai that seem to exist in the town.
The mysterious and mischievous Yo-Kai, who can only be seen by the player thanks to the handy Yo-Kai watch, are causing trouble in the town, largely through affecting the emotions of the residents. Fortunately the player has taken it upon themselves to help out the townsfolk by solving their problems and uncovering the mysteries of the town. The town of Springdale is fairly large and interesting to explore, with lots to see and do. I would have wished that the map was a little more clear, but it is a minor annoyance.
Finding the hidden Yo-Kai is a lot of fun. The player will be warned that a Yo-Kai is near with a metal-detector style indicator which will get more obvious as the player gets closer to the targeted Yo-Kai. Then, the player will have to use a lens and follow the Yo-Kai with their stylus on the bottom screen. Once they have tracked the Yo-Kai’s movements for long enough, battle commences.
Players can take a team of six Yo-Kai with them into battle, with only three being active at a time. The six are displayed on the bottom screen in a dial, and swapping one out to bring in another involves moving the dial around with the stylus. The placement of the Yo-Kai on the dial can give different buffs and bonuses, so there is a level of strategy there for the player.
However, when it comes to the combat itself, things are a little less involved as the Yo-Kai on the field will automatically attack the enemies. Each Yo-Kai is slightly different and brings different skills and special moves to the battle. The special move is known as a “Soultimate” and has to be charged up before the player can unleash it, which will usually involve some kind of mini-game on the touchscreen. These little interactions are relatively simple and may involve tapping or drawing on the touchscreen, so they are harmless. The Yo-Kai can level up as they progress, making them more powerful.
Despite the simplicity of the combat, it is actually quite enjoyable. However, that same simplicity carries over to the rest of the game, which has obviously been targeted towards a younger audience, and as a result leaves the game feeling somewhat shallow. But it is cute and also compelling, in a strange way, with the drive to befriend yet more Yo-Kai pushing the player forward. The game also manages to squeeze in some moral lessons for the younger player, without becoming overly preachy or patronising.
Visually, the game looks pretty impressive on the 3DS. The town is well detailed, as are the inhabitants. The Yo-Kai are incredibly varied, looking from the mundane to the outright bizarre. It is easy to see how these ghostly creatures would capture the imaginations of kids. There are some great cut scenes in the game which have a real anime feel, with some even taken from the actual TV show I believe.
With this first Yo-Kai Watch game, it is difficult to see this reaching the dizzying heights of Pokemon popularity. However, ignoring the hype driven by the Japanese market, there is a great game to be found here. Obviously with a younger audience being the target here, not everyone will find Yo-Kai Watch to their tastes. But it is harmless fun that manages to tap into that compulsive collector that just has to catch ‘em all.