The most colourful game any of us are playing this busy video game season is Yo-kai Watch, the creature-collecting Japanese 3DS phenomenon that is finally making its way to Australia. What's so good about it? I talked it through with the most youthful member of our staff:
Stephen Totilo: Mike, I hadn't realised you were also playing Yo-kai Watch. Nintendo sent me a copy. What's your excuse?
Mike Fahey: Well Stephen, it's simple. I am a 12-year-old boy.
Stephen: Pretty good beard-growing for a 12-year-old! I've been curious about the game since our guys in Japan started covering it and its sequel. These games are huge over there, and I love trying out really popular games just to see what the fuss is about. I was expecting something Pokémon-esque. But what I hadn't realised was how squarely this game would be targeted at kids. And I also hadn't realised how cool the battle system would be.
Like, this is a game that begins with you helping your parents stop fighting. And you later rush some papers to your dad's office so that he can have a successful business meeting, and he buys you a bike as a reward. The whole game is Little Kid Fantasy
Mike: For me it was a combination of Kotaku's coverage and the commercials that have been airing on Cartoon Network, currently the only channel my children will watch. That and the last time Japan was so crazy over a thing it was Pokémon, and Pokémon has done me right.
But yes, total child fantasy. If all of my problems could be ascribed to invisible spirit creatures, my life would be... just as weird, only with spirit creatures.
Stephen: Yeah. Why am I so hungry? Spirit creature. Why can't I make a decision? Spirit creature. I hope there is a Yo-kai who can explain why my foot has hurt me since July.
Mike: There probably is. It's shaped like a giant metal boot with eyes. The creatures in this game sure are strange. Oooo, or a bear trap.
Stephen: I am totally charmed by them. I like the character design a lot, and the presentation is lively. Pokémon look stiff by comparison.
I sense that the game is shallower than Pokémon games are these days, but I actually like being on the ground floor of a new monster series. I feel like I can wrap my hand around all the variables.
Mike: Pokémon has been kind of stiff for a long time. Visual improvements notwithstanding, not all that much has changed. What Yo-kai Watch has done is take the Pokémon formula and streamlined it. It's almost Pokémon for casuals. Random battles only occur in certain places and can be avoided. Standard moves are all handled by AI — one figures Pikachu knows when to Quick Attack by now and doesn't need Ash telling him what to do.
Stephen: Not quite random battles... you can always see the enemies on the map, but yeah.
Mike: These little guys are fighting for us — we're just there to inspire and maintain, maybe direct their fury.
Stephen: Yeah, and putting them on a wheel is so inspired. I love that. Six Yo-kai on that wheel, three active and auto-attacking at any given time during a battle, but you have full control to rotate the other three in. I really like that and am now only worried that the game isn't tough enough. I really like the juggle of rotating wounded enemies out, healing them or purifying them. And I like how there are buffs if you put similar Yokai near each other. But other than that one pig boss, the game is a cinch. I'm talking about that pig who stole the old man's underwear, of course. What a quest.
Mike: In the game's defence, it's a Yo-kai disguised as an old man, so touching his underwear is ok. The pig battle though — it's the one place where things really started to spiral — circle? — out of control. I love the wheel, but one creature dies, do you spin the wheel to replace it and then revive him, or...oh no, they have all been dispirited (debuffed), should I fix them or...oh, we're all dead now.
Stephen: Yeah, and the game checkpoints weirdly. You have to re-do a little too much. I took that battle as the game telling me I needed to grind. Though I think I also wasn't using the targeting system correctly. Once I realised you could target possible weak spots, that helped.
Did you evolve any Yo-kai? I evolved one and he went from having an amazing super attack to now just speeding his buddies up.
Mike: That involved going to the guy in the Shrine? Who has time for that? I've got the main mission and about 20 side missions to complete before I can worry about transforming one of my Yo-kai FRIENDS (it's in all caps in the game menu) into a new critter.
Stephen: No, no. You're talking about fusion, and I'm stalled on that quest because they want me to defeat a certain Mochismo or whatever it's called. But the area where they say one will be isn't showing one. But some Yo-kai can evolve into new forms at level 20 or higher.
Speaking of quests. I am playing this game and Witcher 3 and have never had more unfinished quests at one moment in my gaming life than now.
I just checked. I have 23 open sidequests in Yo-kai Watch right now! I need to find a lost girl. I need to help a kid find a lost missile. Lost toy missile, mind you.
Mike: Sorry, I was involved in a battle with some Yo-kai. I probably shouldn't be playing while we are talking. You seem like you are way ahead of me. Then again, considering I've been playing Call of Duty and several other games since last week, I shouldn't be anywhere in this game at all. And yet here we are.
Stephen: Hey man, we can't all have Level B Yo-kai Watches. I'm sure your Level D watch can detect all sorts of cute Yokai creatures.
Mike: That's just mean. You never tease a boy about his Yo-kai Watch size.
Stephen: Here's a sidequest you'd like: "Just Say NO - A young man doesn't know how to say no to the girl he likes, but she seems to want more of a manly man. Take Noway to help the boy!" (Noway is a Yo-kai who I guess helps you say no).
Mike: That's so far beyond friends stealing each other's comic books.
Stephen: There's also one about a reporter who is "flustered" because her poll about the best ramen has turned up inconclusive results. "We need a Yo-kai to help her make the call."!! Mike, next time you're not sure what to write, I'm sending a Yo-kai to your house.
Mike: Fudgie, the Yo-kai of Fudging Poll Results!
Stephen: Who is your best Yo-Kai?
Mike: My house is already filled with Yo-kai. I dread seeing the toys in stores. My best Yokai? Let's fire up the old incredibly made-up word book... Ah yes, it's Puppy. The purple nightmare eater. Not only is he adorable, he also pretends to be me so I can sneak out at night and sucks away my need to sleep like a normal human being.
Stephen: Oh, you renamed yours!
Mike: He had a regular name, but I renamed him. Puppy. Just the one!
Stephen: That's Baku, I think. Lots of teeth?
Mike: Yes! Baku. Sucks on the character's face, all the teeth.
Stephen: Well let me put in a good word for Tattletell, the old lady in my crew. She heals the Yo-kai adjacent to her. Her regular attack is a Slap. Her "Soultimate Move" is "Loving Slap". She also smartly auto-heals anyone in the active part of the wheel.
Mike: Ah yes! I have her, but she's lower level compared to the rest. She was just killed. It was messy. And sad.
Stephen: She's tough to level up, but you can feed the characters XP orbs and have them read books to improve their attitudes!
Are you going to play more? I think I'm going to stick with it, because I enjoy meeting these characters. But I could see myself bailing if they require more and more backtracking and more and more waiting to do quests at certain times of day.
Mike: Oh I'm seeing this game through to the end. I'm hoping an easier way to change night and day pops up somewhere down the line, but there's a little kid inside me who's feeling totally empowered right now. I like it.
Stephen: Yeah, plus, I mean, it'd be shameful to only have a Level D watch.
Mike: Whatever, old man.
Stephen: Ha ha. I'm glad to have a new 3DS game to sink my teeth into. I haven't used the system for new games all that much this year, and I'm still really bummed about how underwhelming Codename STEAM was. The 3DS generally has been my favourite gaming system each year but outside of Box Boy I haven't been that impressed with its 2015 lineup. This helps. Can't go wrong with a game that includes Manjimutt!
Yo-Kai Watch will be released in Australia on 5 December 2015.