Yo-Kai Watch is huge in Japan. Were talking Pokemon levels of huge. So huge that Arnold Schwarzenegger met up with character Robonyan to help him advertise the new Terminator film. Its even got its own dance routine!
But if its so big, how come we havent heard of it in the West yet? Well, its not out here until the holiday season, but when it does get here, expect to be inundated with a flood of new, adorably weird creatures. To prepare you before then (and allow you to show off to your friends by giving them a knowledge smackdown when they start raving about this new craze) Ive broken down just what Yo-Kai Watch is and why you should be paying attention.
So what the heck is Yo-Kai Watch?
Its a 3DS game that sees you using the Yo-kai Watch attached to your wrist to find monsters (aka Yo-Kai) that only you can see. Theyre usually up to no good and causing a ruckus in your hometown by living in vending machines or by possessing the locals so that they mess up whatever it is theyre trying to do. Its up to you to sort it out by summoning a band of buddies to help you in battle against them.
It all takes place in the town of Springdale which is set in the real world rather than a fictional universe. While rooting around for bugs in the undergrowth you happen across a sacred capsule machine that spits out a Yo-Kai called Whisper who gets you started on the adventure of helping out your town.
Whats the deal with the monsters?
From fairly cute-looking cat things to drunken poodles with the face of a middle-aged salaryman, Yo-Kai are weird. And thats what makes them so cool; theyll all bizarrely unique, but with an element of the everyday (like the poor salaryman example) that makes them instantly familiar and relatable.
Theres a real playfulness to each of the designs, most of which are based on Japanese folklore demons, otherwise known as yokai. While the name of the game may seem odd to us, it makes a lot more sense in its home country. If youve got some knowledge of Japanese culture youll probably get a lot more out of the strange creatures, but even if you dont, that sense of discovering a new beastie is more than enough to see you through, especially when there are over 200 to befriend.
Sooo its a bit like Pokemon, then?
Sort of. Yes you catch monsters, but you dont ever own them and they wont do your bidding. Theyve got their own personalities and motivations, you simply befriend them and then help assist them in battle by bringing out their hidden powers. Theres no picking attacks here, instead you perform one of several available minigames, such as following a path on the touchscreen or spinning with your stylus, to aid your Yo-Kai while they duke it out among themselves on the top screen.
Its a completely different take on the monster catching genre, and feels like a fresh alternative to the Pokemon formula. By setting it in the real world instead of a place similar to the fictional one Pokemon inhabits, Yo-Kai Watch gives you that same sense of discovery when you meet a new creature, but makes it that bit more plausible and real by existing in such a familiar world.
Why is it so big?
Because of its exploration. Imagine being a kid and existing in a world filled with interesting creatures that only you can see. Imagine that everything you found turned into an adventure filled with new friends. Its an intoxicating combination. Everything is bright, fresh and intriguing, its no surprise that so many would flock to it.
Its also seen an anime launch alongside it, as well as some toys that I wish Id had as a kid. If youre not into games then you can get into that universe through the TV show. Theres no escaping it in Japan, and we could be seeing a second wave of popularity hit once the translation has finished and it comes westward.
Why should I care?
You remember what happened to Pokemon right? How Pikachu and pals invaded everything, from lunchboxes to aeroplanes, and caused loads of playground fights over trading cards? How a whole generation delighted in the joys of uncovering new monsters to play with? Well, Pokemon is getting on in years now, and while itll still very much have its place alongside this new upstart, its lost its sheen.
Yo-Kai Watch aims to recapture that sense of discovery and adventure. What Pokemon did for us as kids, Yo-Kai Watch is set to do for the generation coming up behind us. And with the third game in the series currently in development and to be set in America, its gearing up to laser-target us in the West.