7.5
Score

Pros

  • Deep RPG systems
  • The story is agreeable
  • If you like Yo-Kai, this game has plenty of them for you
  • The analog nub on New Nintendo 3DS systems allow for decent camera control
  • Much of the game feels modern and forward-thinking
  • Time travel

Cons

  • Repetitive mission structure
  • Simplistic combat
  • Some Yo-Kai are annoying to have around
  • Time travel

Note: This review encompasses both versions of Yo-Kai Watch BlastersRed Cat Corps, and White Dog Squad, as well as the free expansion Moon Rabbit Crew, included in an update not long after launch.

Ambition in Need of Re-Balancing

Yo-Kai Watch Blasters is ambitious, but not without its problems. It features a deep hub world filled with RPG systems to master, but the simple combat and mission structure leave a lot to be desired. This is a huge issue for an action RPG with a heavy beat ‘em up influence, but it’s not the end of the world. There’s so much circling the gameplay, that it’s arguably worth putting up with the combat to get to the good stuff. I appreciate how much time and money Level-5 has clearly invested in the game, but I wish they had taken the time to make the experience more well-rounded.

Released in Japan back in 2015, Blasters comes hot off the heels of Yo-Kai Watch 2, and is derived from a Blasters mode included included in that game. Starring series regulars like Jibanyan and Whisper, the Blasters are a superhero-ish team that aim to stop evil and battle the giant Oni Yo-Kai. However, Jibanyan’s team is weak and cowardly, and need a kick in the pants to become the heroes they envision. Told in a Saturday morning anime style, the story chronicles the team’s rise to the top of the Blasters ladder, and keeps the game moving at a brisk pace. Not that it really matters, as most fans will just want to hang out with their favorite Yo-Kai, but it’s still a nice touch. 

The interface has barely changed since the Blasters mode in Yo-Kai Watch 2.

One of the most impressive things about Blasters is that almost every mission can be played with online co-op. Parties of two to four people can join up and work together to balance their Yo-Kai team before heading out. At first, I didn’t understand why a game like this would have such a large network component, but when I tried it out, I started to understand why. It’s essentially a system that allows players struggling with the game to get help if they need it, and possibly get more loot out of it than if they went alone. It’s a clever way to keep people playing as it reassures frustrated kids and anxious adults that even if the game gets hard, it still tries to remain accessible.

This accessibility is baked into the game’s core design. As I mentioned before, there a lot of systems going on. There are multiple currencies, item crafting, gem crafting, unlockable outfits, achievements, daily events, and ways to link not only with other copies of Yo-Kai Watch Blasters, but with Yo-Kai Watch 2 as well. There’s even more to talk about, but the point is that instead of overwhelming you, the game just wants you to know these systems are available.  You’re more than welcome to experience everything at your own pace, and should you want to go in depth with these systems, you can. If you want to ignore everything and just loot and level, you can do that too. This freedom is part of what kept me playing, even during moments when I was ready to close my 3DS and forget these games ever existed.

Oni Orbs can be used to level up Yo-Kai, among other things.

Though the credits roll after about twenty hours, there are still plenty of missions to take on and bosses to fight in the post-game. The game essentially allows you to play until you’re content, and even ups the ante with a free expansion, Moon Rabbit Crew that gives players even more story and activities to do. For those who can play that long, it’s something worth checking out. For me though, I was pretty much ready to move on once I saw the staff names. As much as I respect this game, certain issues I had made the idea of playing any more of it feel like a chore.

The main problems come down to combat and mission variety. No matter what’s going on in the story, there are only three mission types: beating up other Yo-Kai, fighting boss Yo-Kai, and finding random items on the map. Though the game does its best to keep these objectives varied, it’s very easy to get sick of doing them over and over again. Especially during missions that string one type of mission after another.

The combat falters because it’s similarly simple and repetitive. Though each Yo-Kai on a team has three moves and an ultimate attack (a Soultimate), a lot of the attacks and abilities feel useless or underpowered. What’s worse, as you level up Yo-Kai, they can only learn two more moves. However, many of these unlockable abilities are just as weak as the defaults, and if you have a Yo-Kai that winds up with a bad moveset, it’s best to just cut your losses and switch to a new one. Some of the basics of combat, like the breakdown of Yo-Kai into classic Fighter, Healer, Ranger, and Tank classes feel okay, but it’s not enough to give the game a pass. This doesn’t feel like a combat system built for a full game; it’s barely enough for a minigame.

I’m also not a fan of how restrictive the levels feel compared to the hub world. When choosing a mission, the game puts the player on a map that is resized for the mission parameters. Certain areas are grayed out and inaccessible, but in other missions they’re fully playable, even if you have no reason to be there. Also, once a mission is completed, players have a limited time to get to the level exit before they’re kicked out of the map. The game is so focused on directing your experience during these missions, that it feels disconnected from the relative freedom of the hub world. 

Usapyon, from the Moon Rabbit Crew expansion, is simply adorable.

Another issue I have is the way Level-5 has handled the whole “two versions of the same game” thing. Though they’ve been down this route before, and Red Cat Corps and White Dog Squad come with the usual exclusive missions and Yo-Kai, the games still feel too similar for it to matter. Jibanyan, the Red Cat mascot, is the star of the game no matter what. He is the leader of the default Blasters team and a consistent presence in cutscenes. Komasan, the White Dog mascot, is eventually recruited in a story mission, and has some contributions to the plot, but he doesn’t feel like a major protagonist. You would think the whole idea of White Dog Squad would be to start out as Komasan and recruit Jibanyan, or something else like that, but it’s not. Going by defaults, Red Cat Corps is the way to go, while White Dog Squad is just for people who want to feel special. Personally though, I prefer Usapyon from Moon Rabbit Crew. His ranged attacks and fighter stats feel great when playing as him, and his down-home personality is just infectious.

Had Level-5 worked to make the beat ‘em up combat just as complex and interesting as the rest of the game, I’d say Yo-Kai Watch Blasters would be one of the best games on the 3DS. But with all of the focus on the hub world design, it’s clear that this game is ambitious, but misguided. It’s kind of like decorating a cake with the best frosting and filling, even though it’s actually a dry sponge on the inside and not a cake at all.

I would love to see the sequel, Blasters 2, also hit our shores, but it’s still on 3DS. It’s all up to Nintendo at this point, because they’re the only ones still releasing games for that system. There is a possibility – Yo-Kai Watch 3 hits America this February, so they’ll still be pushing this series on the system in 2019 – but I’m not confident. Perhaps down the line there can be a Blasters game on Switch that fixes my issues and makes the combat more fun, but I feel that way about a lot of games. If you’re interested in Blasters at all and want my advice, get this game when it’s relevant, if you’re going to get it at all, and enjoy the online co-op while you can.

-7.5/10

The real way to play.

This review was conducted using retail copies of both Red Cat Corps and White Dog Squad that I purchased. Moon Rabbit Crew is a free expansion included in an update – meaning you pretty much have to download it no matter what.

If you’d like to get in touch with me and tell me how much you liked this review, you can contact me on Twitter, or by emailing me at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com.