Yo-Kai Watch review: Eastern mythology localized
Nintendo's ambition with Yo-Kai Watch is to re-interpret a culturally distant concept and spin it around for a localized audience. Houses are laid out a distinctive Japanese manner. The lead character – a self-named boy or girl – takes off shoes instantly upon entering a home. Yo-Kai Watch teaches manners of a foreign land.
Chances are an American child at the right age for Nintendo's paranormal watch simulator won't find any of this peculiar anyway. Despite the central allure being Yokai – mischievous, funny, even dangerous ghosts, centuries old in Japan's fantasy lore - Yo-Kai Watch is universal. Its themes and messages prod at childhood's best and worst.
Those insights cross international borders unscathed. Arguing parents. Divorce. Lying. Yo-Kai Watch is notable and comforting, breaking down confusing circumstances, using the wacky ghosts as the reason for family turmoil or to help escape difficult circumstances. A satisfying, well charged theme song has the needed properties to get started.
To an extent, Yo-Kai Watch does speak down to a specific level of pre-pubescent immaturity. That's okay. Lessons are universal. If a Yokai named Snotsolong (with its bouncing nasal debris acting as a weapon) is able to help a child cope, so be it. There are other low grade teachings too. Don't cross a road when the lights are red or you will be scolded by ghost compatriot Whisper. Again, Yo-Kai Watch can overcome the Asian origins by being practical.
It's Friday, Friday... tomorrow is Saturday
As a first grade RPG, Yo-Kai Watch chops up into episodes. Paired with the splashy theme song, Nintendo's latest embodies the dying form of Saturday morning cartoons.
Much of Yo-Kai Watch plays itself – battles can be finished hands-off. Base attacks are done automatically, a smart reduction in complexity to better serve the target demographic.
And, to draw them into a profitable toy ecosystem too, of course.
Should it take off, Yo-Kai Watch will be a generation's Pokemon.
Yo-Kai Watch is first and foremost a property. Should it take off, Yo-Kai Watch will be a generation's Pokemon. Differences are few and changes are subtle. Catch 'em all remains an adequate tagline. Pokemon-era adults with kids will now understand the befuddlement of Atari-age adults who didn't grasp the '90s pocket monster craze.
Video games may not incite mass shootings, but they can certainly compel a six-year old to crawl under a car in search of new ghosts to capture. That's a chunk of the exploration here, sifting through garbage piles or the muck contained under a vending machine, hoping for a Snotsolong to appear (or others, obviously). If the watch lights up, it's a viable hunting spot.
By designing battles to require limited input, Yo-Kai is giving kids a reason to be outside. They can search real world trees or bushes for ghosts while simultaneously brawling virtually. Yo-Kai Watch is certainly appealing to a demo locked into mobile binges of Snapchat. Begin a battle on device one, send a message on device two, all without interruption.
Imaginations can wander and ADD can sink in its grip except during higher scale battles.
There are special moves and items to utilize in these decorated battles. Those commands are sunk into the touch screen. There is a mild need to pay attention, even if it is minuscule. Imaginations can wander and ADD can sink in its grip except during higher scale battles. This allows the genre's thick grinding methodology to be tolerable. Do the other things your wandering mind is telling you to; the fight will continue on.
Chintzy fighting or not, the coping mechanisms provided and the lively roster of creatures are more than enough to justify a localization. The color and energy offered are tremendous. Any toy property in 2015 willing to incite a flurry of imagination and outdoor activity – even one which may put kids under parked cars – is worth something.