Yo-Kai Watch: Nintendo Is Manufacturing A Mega-Hit

Whether or not you’re a portable game fan, chances are pretty good that, by now, you’ve heard about the 3DS’ latest monster-catching title, Yo-Kai Watch. That’s because Nintendo has put a lot of effort into putting the game in front of as many eyes as humanly possible, partnering with the likes of Disney and Hasbro to make what they hope will be an instant success here in the States.

Even if you haven’t caught wind of Yo-Kai Watch just yet, Nintendo is doing everything in its power to change that fact. If asked to make a list of the most popular modern games series, titles like Call of Duty, Fallout, Battlefield, Halo and Assassin’s Creed would likely find their way to the top of the standings. The thing about those series, though, is that they didn’t make it big overnight. It took years of games coming out on a regular basis to build up the kind of hype that is now attached to those titles, with more and more fans coming on board with each subsequent release.

What’s interesting about Yo-Kai Watch, which released just today here in North America, is that Nintendo is aiming to hit the ground running and, in a way, aiming to manufacture the lightning in a bottle effect developers and publishers typically have to stumble into. It’s been an interesting process to watch take form, and it all started just a couple of years ago in Japan.

It's big in Japan

To be clear, Nintendo didn’t just pick a game at random to put this much marketing muscle behind it here in North America. Coming from the team at Level 5 (Ni No Kuni, Professor Layton, Fantasy Life), Yo-Kai Watch was one of those overnight successes in its home country of Japan, infecting just about every molecule of society imaginable.

The secret to the game’s success is partially due to the fact that it borrows so heavily from another uuber-hit, Pokemon. In the game, you explore a quaint Japanese city that has been overrun by Yo-Kai. These spirits must be battled and collected in order to build your army of combat-ready creatures, which draw their origin stories from Japanese folklore. We’ll talk more about the particulars of Yo-Kai Watch in a moment, but coupling those monster-catching systems with the world building and charm Level 5 has become known for is a pretty solid recipe for success.

The game spawned a popular television series, toys and all of the usual odds and ends that typically come with a successful game, helping Yo-Kai Watch evolve into a state where it has legitimate cultural relevance. Not a lot of games end up getting used to promote loads of unrelated products, find their way into restaurants and convenience stores and pop up in just about every other window on the street. In case none of that is making Yo-Kai Watch’s success clear enough, how about this: The series has enjoyed a lengthy period of sales in Japan that actually outpace Pokemon.

With all of that momentum backing Yo-Kai Watch, it’s no wonder Nintendo is putting some additional effort into making it equally successful overseas.

Built on a solid foundation

If you are only vaguely familiar with the Pokemon series, you wouldn’t be faulted for looking at a screenshot of Yo-Kai Watch and assuming it was from the same series. As stated above, Yo-Kai is all about battling spirits and then befriending and adding them to your collection.

All of the usual mechanics are present, including raising your Yo-Kai so that their stats are to your liking or they evolve the way you want them to. Between battles, you’ll explore a big world full of side-quest-giving NPCs and outside activities that include fishing, catching bugs and the like.

The reviews for the U.S. launch of Yo-Kai Watch have been pretty positive so far, with the game currently resting at a 77 on Metacritic. Most reviewers seem to love the story, characters and world, though the combat is being knocked for being more managerial than involving. Your Yo-Kai battle on their own in this game, with the player responsible for fine-tuning their abilities, putting them into advantageous formations, taking care of a few on-the-fly activities and completing mini-games to trigger special abilities. This shift in gameplay is likely due to Japan’s insatiable love of mobile gaming, which these battle mechanics seem to mirror.

Throw all of that in a pot and stir it up, and what you’re left with is a game that charmed the pants off of Japanese gamers and the rest of the country to boot. Whether or not it’ll be able to pull off that same feat here Stateside remains to be seen, but it looks like the series is off to a good start.

All of the frills

Rather than just rely on Yo-Kai watch to succeed as a game, Nintendo has formed partnerships with the likes of Hasbro and Disney to help provide some of that (if you’ll excuse the gross marketing terminology) cultural penetration it has experienced in Japan. While nobody is expecting the series to be as huge as it is in its homeland, that’s not stopping The Big N from giving it every opportunity to do exactly that.

The Yo-Kai Watch television series started running on Disney XD in early October and, starting today, you can watch the first episode on the Level 5 Youtube page at no charge. So long as you’re happy being a month behind, it sounds like the plan is to bring out one new episode a week moving forward. While Yo-Kai Watch’s ratings are nowhere near where the Pokemon series was at when it took the world by storm, a few factors need to be taken into consideration.

For starters, folks don’t get their media the same way they used to. In the mid-‘90s, the only way to watch Pokemon was to watch it when it aired on TV. Nowadays, there are members of Yo-Kai Watch’s target demographic who have never watched standard television in their lives. Bringing the show to Youtube should help make it available for those youngsters who don’t tune into regular programming, and eventual launches on streaming services like Hulu and Netflix will only boost its success.

Starting this holiday season, you’ll also be able to track down all sorts of Yo-Kai Watch toys including the titular watches, action figures and more. Couple that with a new game hitting store shelves just in time for the annual holiday shopping rush, as well as a TV show that’s already creating buzz for the younger audience, and Nintendo may have very well manufactured a perfect storm for Yo-Kai Watch’s success. They’ve even got an attractive holiday bundle on offer, packaging the game with a 2DS for just a hundred bucks.

A ready-made future

But once the hype train has left the station, you need to make sure there’s plenty of fuel to keep that bad boy running full steam ahead. Due to the time it has taken the first Yo-Kai Watch to be localized, it looks like that won’t be a problem for Nintendo, either.

Yo-Kai Watch 2 has already released in Japan and we’re assuming it’s only a matter of time before an English version follows suit. The series is so far along in Japan that Yo-Kai Watch 3 has already been announced, which will bring the characters to the distant and mysterious land of the United States. Yep, they’ve really thought this American takeover through.

And as if that isn’t enough, a spin-off series called Yo-Kai Watch Busters has also turned into a huge success in Japan, making yet another game that is ready to roll here in the West once Nintendo and Level 5 decide to localize it.

Only time will tell how the American audience takes to Yo-Kai Watch, but its chances at success are looking pretty good at the moment. If the series somehow falls short here in the States, it certainly won’t be because of a lack of effort on Nintendo’s part.

Ryan Winslett

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.