Sunday 29 May 2016

Yo-Kai Watch

Yo-Kai Watch is pretty good, and not just because one of the characters literally has an arse for a face. The fact that it's so often described as “like Pokémon” will discourage teenage boys who secretly wish they were more masculine, but the fact that it's developed by the same people behind games such as Professor Layton and Ni No Kuni should encourage anybody. Also, don't forget that one of the characters literally has an arse for a face.

Developed by Level-5 and out now for the 3DS, Yo-Kai Watch has only recently been released in English-speaking territories, but it's been going for a few years already in Japan. The success that it's found there has been bigger than Jeremy Clarkson's ego. While it seems unlikely to say the least that it'll achieve a similar level of fandom over here, it's not hard to see the appeal of the franchise. The basic idea is that there are invisible creatures all around us – the eponymous Yo-kai – who can directly influence human emotions and actions. If you suddenly become inexplicably hungry, mean-spirited, greedy, forgetful, tired, or feel an uncharacteristic urge to kill, then a mischievous Yo-kai may be to blame. Well okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.

After choosing whether you wish to play as a boy or a girl, the story doesn't take long to give you the watch from the title. This allows you to detect the presence of these creatures, and even make them visible. It would be a rather weird game if it didn't. There's a story – something about the line thinning between our world and the one of the Yo-kai, and eventually some kind of slightly bizarre supernatural civil war – but ultimately it's all about finding, fighting, and collecting as many of these weird creatures as you can.

And they are weird. Just Google 'em. Blazion looks a bit like Lion-O, Tattletell is a mildly terrifying creature based on an old woman, Mirapo is an ambulatory mirror, Cheeksqueek is the one who literally has an arse for a face... weird. The Pokémon comparisons come in because there are so many different ones, they fight on your behalf, you can evolve them, and – of course – you can build up a small army of the things. The similarities don't go much deeper than that, though.

Adding new Pokémon to your menagerie/harem/whatever is relatively simple; you weaken 'em, you throw a ball of a certain power tier, and the behind-the-scenes number crunching does the rest. Here though, Yo-kai join you voluntarily; you can't press gang them into service. You'll sometimes gain one through completing a story or side quest, but generally they are won through battle. You can make it more likely that they'll join you by feeding them treats while beating the crap out of them, strongly hinting that they're a race of magical creatures massively into S&M; but it's not even as simple as that. Each Yo-kai has its own specific likes and dislikes, and item use during battles is limited by a strict cooldown timer. 

Ah, the battles. They're real-time and turn-based smoshed together. Not in the way the Ni No Kuni fights were though, which is just as well, because I bloody hated the combat in that game. You can carry six Yo-Kai with you at once, with three fighting together at a time. You pull them in and out of combat via a wheel on the touchscreen. The touchscreen sees a lot of action because, while your creatures attack and defend entirely independently, they rely on you to activate their special abilities and remove debuffs. Both are achieved by completing simple minigames. Unlikely as it sounds, fights are involving and require you to plan your next move carefully.

It's not without its problems – indications of where to go next are often bloody terrible, finding new Yo-Kai can be harder than you'd think, and the main story ends somewhat abruptly – but it's an oddly mesmerising experience, and some of the dialogue is genuinely funny. If you enjoy the demo, the full game is sure to provide dozens of hours of fun.

Looking for an alternative to Pokémon? Yo-kain't go wrong with this. 4/5.


Luke Kemp

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