Sometimes, it’s hard to know where games even begin. Yo-Kai Watch Blasters, a full game spin-off to a minigame inside a sequel that was inspired by a random event in the original Yo-Kai Watch, is not something that a casual player would think to pick up off the shelf. As spin-offs often are, it’s a game that’s fundamentally different from other titles in the series, so even Yo-Kai Watch fans might not know what they’re getting themselves into. Yo-Kai Watch Blasters is a shallow game, but there’s something about it that just may be more fun than the core RPGs that spawned it.
The gameplay of Yo-Kai Watch Blasters evolved from a mechanic that first appeared in the original Yo-Kai Watch. When sneaking out at night, your chosen protagonist and your team of Yo-Kai friends (small, mischievous spirits responsible for many of life’s everyday phenomena) had a chance to enter Terror Time, encountering a monstrous, unbeatable Yo-Kai that would chase the player through the streets until they found the exit portal. Yo-Kai Watch 2 expanded this feature into its own multiplayer minigame, dubbed Blasters, which removed the human protagonist in favor of a team of Yo-Kai who could patrol the area and fight back. It was a simple, optional minigame centered around defeating enemies to collect Oni Orbs, and it needed multiple players to band together and take on the various team roles of Fighter, Tank, Healer, and Ranged Yo-Kai in order to win.
Now, that concept—eschewing the human protagonist to take direct control of a team of fighting Yo-Kai, ready to issue a beat-down to any others spotted causing trouble—has been expanded into a full game, Yo-Kai Watch Blasters. With its own story campaign, AI teammates to help in single-player mode, a Yo-Kai Medallium collection to fill, and a more complex battling system, Blasters has added a lot to the minigame that spawned it—but it still can’t quite shake free from its roots as a minigame.
You see, while the game’s almost button mash-y, action-oriented combat is entirely different from the hands-off, plate-spinning team-based gameplay of the main Yo-Kai Watch games, the rest of Blasters doesn’t do much to separate itself from the game where it was born. This is most egregious in the world itself. Each map is a carbon copy of a section of the Yo-Kai Watch 2 overworld, but smaller and without any ability to enter caves or buildings. On one hand, I appreciate the economical use of turning existing assets into something that can be played in an entirely different way. On the other hand, I’m kind of flabbergasted that there weren’t any new maps made at all to take advantage of the completely different style of gameplay. No matter what other innovations were added, when the entire game is set inside a cut-and-paste of Yo-Kai Watch 2, I can’t help but feel like I’m playing, well, a minigame from Yo-Kai Watch 2.
The core loop of Blasters is also very simple, with not as much depth put into the different combat roles as you’d expect to see in a game all about fighting. Here, though, I’m more forgiving, because the core loop is actually kind of fun. You pick a team, you go out on a mission, you beat up some bad guys, you get some Oni Orbs, and you get a little stronger for your next mission to beat up some stronger bad guys. The story, which seems lightly inspired by Ghostbusters, is more of an excuse to get back out there and fight more monstrous spirits than it is an actual plot, but it never pretends to be more than that. If I had to pick an audience for this game, I’d give it to commuters; Yo-Kai Watch Blasters is the perfect kind of game to play while riding the bus. Pick it up, play a mission or two for 10 minutes, get a little stronger for your time. Like most games with a grind to level up, it’s never something that demands too much attention. It’s repetitive, but engaging enough to be fun in a light sort of way.
If you do choose to go at it hardcore, though, there are options for you, especially in the postgame. Escalating boss fights, a coliseum, and other additional challenges will require you to be on point, collect the strongest Yo-Kai, and come equipped with both good items and a strategy in order to win. However, this added difficulty exposes one of the game’s weaknesses: your AI teammates. If you want to play the harder parts of Yo-Kai Watch Blasters, you’ll definitely want to do it with a team of real people, because “AI good enough to help out in the campaign” is not at all on the same level as “AI that mimics a good player.” For example, the AI knows how to run to a fallen AI teammate and revive them. However, the AI is not smart enough to recognize that a fallen teammate died from standing in lava, which means that a fight can be going just fine until your entire team suddenly rushes one by one into a lava pit. With the more complicated mechanics in the later fights that may require leading enemies around, executing attacks with the right timing to avoid an enemy’s attack in turn, or focusing down smaller enemies before going for the big guy, the AI will do its best, but it just can’t keep up. The more challenging gameplay is there, but you’ll either need to stack the numbers far in your favor or pick up a couple of real-life friends to take on the challenges with you.
Other serious players may turn their attention to trying to complete the Yo-Kai Medallium, a catch-’em-all style task that requires befriending every single Yo-Kai in the game. Unfortunately, as in the main games, this is something of a random process. Every time a Yo-Kai is defeated, there’s a chance that it will want to join your team, triggering a befriending minigame. You can put some Yo-Kai that up your recruitment chances on your team, but making friends with a new Yo-Kai always comes down to the sheer luck of whether they’ll initiate that post-battle minigame or not. The Crank-a-Kai, a virtual Gashapon machine players can put coins into a few times every day, also has a chance to drop Yo-Kai—but, as before, it’s random. This isn’t something that’s unique to Yo-Kai Watch Blasters, since other games in the series work the same way, but in a game that’s already fairly repetitive, grinding out more battles for the collection’s sake may be too much even for completionists.
So, yes, Yo-Kai Watch Blasters has its problems, and several of them. There’s still something about it, though, that I enjoyed. Maybe it’s getting to directly play as my Yo-Kai instead of standing back as a passive human observer as in the main games. Maybe it’s the speed of progression, which makes it so that even a quick 10-minute play session can be rewarding. Whatever the case, I found it more fun to run in and beat up a powerful Yo-Kai in Blasters than I did in taking on a boss battle in the main games, and that’s worth some goodwill. I may not spend many more deliberate gaming sessions on Yo-Kai Watch Blasters, but hey, if I’m ever in need of a quick way to pass a few minutes, I’ll keep my 3DS on hand.
|Publisher: Level-5, Nintendo • Developer:Level-5 • ESRB: E 10+ • Release Date: 09.07.18|
Yo-Kai Watch Blasters never manages to shake off that minigame feel, but its core gameplay, though shallow, is fun. Don’t go in expecting anything too deep (or expecting to go anywhere beyond the town of Yo-Kai Watch 2), and Blasters is an enjoyable enough way to pass the time.
|The Good||The ability to play as and power up my favorite Yo-Kai was a lot of fun, especially when I acquired the sleep-deprived, 3DS-clutching Allnyta. My spirit animal.|
|The Bad||I wish my AI teammates were smart enough to recognize that, when an NPC is yelling for us to move the boss to the left, we should move the boss to the left.|
|The Ugly||Trying to play the befriending minigame when it pops up in the middle of an active battle with a crowd of enemy Yo-Kai.|
|Yo-Kai Watch: Blasters: White Dog Squad is available on Nintendo 3DS. Review code was provided by Level-5 for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|