Heading down to London on what was pretty much the hottest day of the year so far wasn't much fun - particularly when you have the skin tone of a particularly pasty vampire and the sun tolerance to match. But, with the promise of Nintendo games, we braved sunburn, sun rashes and sweltering underground trains just so we could bring you our thoughts on the big N's biggest upcoming releases. High on our hit list were the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes and Mario + Luigi Paper Jam Bros. - but that was before we noticed a pair of 3DS' in the corner boasting hands-on time with Yo-Kai Watch, a game we weren't expecting to see.
For those unfamiliar, Yo-Kai Watch is a game about the titular Yo-Kai - small, invisible beings that are literally everywhere in the world. While some of them are friendly enough, the problem is, not all of them are well-behaved - in fact, the majority of them like to cause trouble for the humans that live alongside them. Whether it's causing an argument between friends or making someone forget something important, if something goes strangely wrong, the odds are one of the Yo-Kai are at the bottom of it. Armed with your high-tech Yo-Kai Watch device, you can hunt out the hidden beings, befriend them and build your own team of Yo-Kai to battle other Yo-Kai for you, a la Nintendo's uber popular Pokemon series, putting right the world's wrongs as you go.
Designed by Level 5, the studio behind such monoliths as Professor Layton and the role playing masterpiece Ni No Kuni (in collaboration with Studio Ghibli), Yo-Kai Watch has an air of reassuring familiarity about it from the off. With a style that's rather reminiscent of the gorgeously hand-drawn look of Ni No Kuni, Yo-Kai Watch is certainly a pretty game - and, like much of the Professor Layton/Dragon Quest developer's offerings, has its own very specific sense of humour, with more than a smattering of groan-worthy puns to match.
In our demo, we were tasked with tracking down three of the meddlesome Yo-Kai, who'd been causing various problems in and around the town.
First on our list of troublesome creatures was one causing an epidemic of hungriness in his general vicinity - the Hungramps. A Yo-Kai which resembles a grumpy old guy, he's a recipe for disaster for dieters everywhere, giving anyone that comes into contact with him some serious hunger pangs and cravings. But, like all the Yo-Kai out there, he's not all that easy to find. While the effects of the Yo-Kai are fairly obvious (we came across a family, all craving food, though none were quite sure why), finding the Yo-Kai perpetrator is always a little bit harder, as they're actually invisible to the naked eye - so you'll need to use your 'Yo-Kai Lens' to seek him out. Kind of like a more technologically advanced magnifying glass, you get to slide a circle around on the Touch Screen, which glows brighter the closer you get to the hidden Yo-Kai. One you locate the little beastie though, it's time for a battle - and Yo-Kai Watch's battle system is a little odd to say the least.
Essentially turn-based, with you and your opponents taking it in turns to attack, heal and do special moves, Yo-Kai's battle system sounds fairly standard on paper. The only difference is, it kind of all plays out automatically. Your current team of six Yo-Kai are shown on Touch Screen in a kind of wheel-like arrangement, with three in front - and in battle - and three behind, acting as reserves. Your current battling Yo-Kai attack automatically, in their own time, as long as they're in the front row, and can be switched in and out by spinning the wheel around. To keep it from turning into a bit of a dull spectator sport, each Yo-Kai has their own special attack or ability you can trigger via a number of Touch-Screen-based micro games. After prodding the "Soultimate" button, a micro game will be triggered, whether it's tapping little blobs as they appear on the screen to charge up a rather devastating Paws of Fury attack, or spinning a vortex around and around, these 'Soultimate' moves do have a bit of a recharge time before you can use them again though - meaning working out the best time to unleash them requires a bit of strategy.
Having given that meddling Hungramps a seeing to, we then move on to Yo-Kai number two - but not without doing a bit of exploring first. Running past a vending machine in the street an exclamation mark alerts us to the fact we may be able to interact with it somehow - with a button press we find ourselves taking a close look at the floor underneath the vending machine, tapping on the glowing spots on the floor to find hidden items. Further down the street we find a similarly suspicious tree, where we can catch a few bugs - assuming we can figure out how to swing our net successfully, anyway. It seems simple to begin with - you simply move your lens-like cursor over the insect in question - but then a little arrow starts spinning round the outside of the circle, and the aim of the game is to stop it while it's inside one of the yellow chunks. It's easier said than done, given the speed the arrow rotates at, making it more of a game of luck than anything else. We'll get you next time, you bee-like beast!
Following our appalling bug-catching show, we decide to go back to our main mission - rounding up this trio of meddlesome Yo-Kai. Heading into the alley behind the fish shop, we're surprised to find everyone about as cheery as a funeral, with a gaggle of depressed, upset and overly negative people mulling around. It can't just be a coincidence - and before long we stumble upon the Yo-Kai causing all the problems, the rather dreary-looking, mosquito-alike Yo-Kai, the Negatibuzz. During the battle that followed, we were introduced to status effects, such as being 'inspirited', which prevents Yo-Kai from attacking on their turn. Fortunately, it has a relatively easy fix, as you simply need to rotate through your party to bring the inspirited Yo-Kai to the back row, where a little Touch Screen mini-game patches him right up.
Our third and final Yo-Kai was an easy find - we just happened to be strolling through the park and stumbled upon the fiend that was making all the kiddies majorly lazy and generally lethargic. A critter known as a Dulluma, which looks kind of like a depressed orange with feet (or, if you're familiar with Japanese traditions, kind of like a Daruma doll), was the source of the general feeling of "cba", as you've probably guessed by now. After a quick battle, we saw the thing off and headed back to the woman who'd given us the mission in the first place.
At first she seemed pretty pleased with us for finishing her mission, but things didn't seem quite... right. You know that feeling you get when you know someone is hiding something, but they're putting on a brave face? Well, this was what the woman was doing. But her secret was one we'd never expected - as it turned out she was also a Yo-Kai, in some kind of Yo-Kai-inspired Inception rip-off. Before we knew it, we found ourselves slap-bang in the middle of a battle with the big pile of purpley goo, Dismarelda, who basically looked like the Pokemon Muk in drag - a boss fight that we (hope) we weren't supposed to be able to win, because we failed abysmally.
And so ended our short time with Yo-Kai Watch - and as fans of both Pokemon and Level-5's last big role-playing game, Ni No Kuni, we're seriously excited for it's release sometime soon. While technically not confirmed for Europe yet, we can't imagine the release will be too far behind America, who are due to get the game later this year, before Christmas. The best we've heard is a spring 2016 release for this one - so it's still perhaps a way away yet.