If you’ve heard of Yo-Kai Watch, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about it in comparison to a little franchise called Pokémon. The Japanese import has become the latest cultural craze for a couple of years now, with several games, an animated series and enough merchandise to fill more than a few Toys R Us stores. And finally, the series had made its way to America with the first Yo-Kai Watch release only a few weeks after the cartoon premiered on Disney XD.
So is Yo-Kai Watch your or your kid’s next monster collecting addiction, or does the series have some kinks to work out before it can come close to claiming that crown? While we haven’t played the full game yet, the early hours of the game indicate just how much charm there is to the game, even when the act of playing it turns monotonous.
Yo-Kai starts players out as a young boy or girl who, while walking in the forest one day, comes across a mysterious device and creature. That device is the titular watch, which allows its wearer to see Yo-Kai, any number of ghosts that are the reasons for your daily nuisances. The particular Yo-Kai the player first runs into, the most ghost-like of the species named Whisper, offers to help train you in the ways of battling and befriending Yo-Kai. (Nintendo sure loves to imbue friendship in its games.)
And so players go on, completing missions to uncover the secrets of the Yo-Kai around their world, completing quests for humans and helping other Yo-Kai in need. The collecting mechanic takes its own approach to the idea, as Yo-Kai will sometimes approach the player after battle and offer their Yo-Kai medallion so they can be called upon in battle — no inhumane stuffing of creatures into tiny balls here.
Every Yo-Kai has its own distinct personality and punny name, seemingly tailor-made for their bigger screen counterparts (and the accompanying merchandise). It’s something that kids will likely eat up, even if the cutesy, sometimes simple humor won’t draw in the older crowds who still play Pokemon when their friends aren’t looking.
Yo-Kai makes the collecting compulsion an easy one to satisfy in its early hours, but as you fill out your medallion compendium, the main drive of the game loses some of its luster. Yo-Kai can be conditioned to want to befriend you by giving them the right food from your inventory, but it’s a guessing game as to what will work best.
And the actual act of battling other Yo-Kai is surprisingly passive. Your chosen Yo-Kai team will attack on their own. The player could technically do nothing, and with the properly strengthened Yo-Kai, still win. But to use special moves, players must engage with one of a few minigames on the 3DS’ touchscreen. They offer a nice fighting alternative at first, but the limited number of minigame types becomes tiresome after a few matches. Even with managing the health of your Yo-Kai, battles play out less like a game of skill and more like one of endurance.
Outside of fighting, players engage in main story quests, as well as other one-time and recurring tasks. There are plenty of options, but the missions tend to blend together. The side missions and repeated favors can often boil down to fetching items again and again. In short bursts it works fine for the early hours, but the idea of a few dozen hours of these quests sounds less like an exciting prospect and more like a nuisance one of the Yo-Kai would impose.
But even with only a few Yo-Kai captured and a handful of hours played, it’s easy to see how Yo-Kai Watch successfully can appeal to its younger demographic. The gameplay may not be enticing enough to match the game’s charm for an older audience, but there’s a joy and humor to all of the proceedings not inherent to the journey of wannabe Pokemon masters. (But the gameplay loop of catching and fighting in those titles makes a more enticing initial case than Yo-Kai‘s core.) Yo-Kai Watch delights in the mundane, the everyday trials and tribulations of the world, mining them for clever, colorful fun, but it remains a question whether that can sustain the whole adventure.
Yo-Kai Watch is one of EW’s anticipated games of the fall. Check out our full fall games preview to see more. Yo-Kai Watch is now available for the Nintendo 3DS.