With the Pokémon series setting its sights firmly on the Nintendo Switch, Yokai Watch has stepped up to satisfy our monster collecting fix on the dual screen handheld. Blasters arrived in the west this September and helped to ease the wait for the third mainline instalment which is set to launch sometime this Winter. The spin-off bears a resemblance to the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series in that it allows you to take command of the franchise's poster boys in their very own adventure.
We chose the Red Cat Corps version and our journey started with our team of blasters dashing off in fear after attempting to save the day from an evil group of Yokai who are terrorising the town. After retreating to our hideout, our group of "bottom-of-the-barrel" blasters are met by Sergeant Burly who has been sent from the Blasters Association to give us some much needed tough love and training. The story sees your rise to the top after being on the brink of being disbanded and features some nice touches such as the original voice cast lending their talents for the main ensemble and short teaser trailers in the style of the anime for each chapter.
Combat in Blasters is in more of an action-RPG style and requires you to mash together a mix of physical attacks, special attacks and dodges whilst cycling through your team of Yokai. Each Yokai has a special attack which can be triggered once the team receives a certain amount of damage. Jibanyan's special move, paws of furry, has him rapidly slash foes with his paws delivering a blistering combo of attacks to any nearby facing enemies. You have four interchangeable Yokai in your team and each has their own class of either fighter, healer, ranger and tank. There are no restrictions on how you arrange your team (you could have four fighters, for example, or a balanced team with a member of each class) and most of our fun came from reshuffling our team and befriending new creatures for experimentation.
On top of this, there are also items you can purchase from Dimmy's shop on the second floor of your hideout and equipment that can be crafted for stat boosts from materials gathered out on missions. The purchasable items can really give you the upper hand and some can allow you to slow down a boss or appear temporarily invisible. The main issue with the combat system though is that it doesn't feel all that deep, especially when compared to the mainline entries. If you don't keep varying your team and equipment things can quickly feel dull as you repeat the same process of attacking, dodging and waiting for your special moves to cool down.
By reporting to Sergeant Burly you can select between three categories of missions: Story, Patrol, and Big Boss (providing that you have passed the first few chapters). Story missions make up the bulk up the title's ten chapters and usually require you to complete a common task such as dispatching a group of troublemaking Yokai or collecting fallen items. Besides a change in setting and some new faces along the way, these missions usually remain pretty similar with the difficulty barely ramping to keep things engaging. This thrown in with the bare bones combat system does become tedious after the first handful of chapters. Luckily, Blasters has some other tricks up its sleeve.
The other two modes are completely optional and can be revisited when grinding for more Oni Orbs for progression and finding other allies. Big Boss mode allows you to have a rematch against the much tougher baddies you've grappled with in the story and there's even an extra challenging mode if you are feeling brave enough. Here your level has been capped to ensure that there's always a threat and to prevent you from destroying the much earlier bosses with your newfound strength. Patrol mode, on the other hand, allows you to leisurely visit the locales seen within the story so that you can do a spot of sightseeing and scoop up any critters that may have sneaked past you.
You may have noticed that Blasters is available with two separate versions: Red Cap Corps and White Dog Squad. The main difference is the 50 or so Yokai exclusive to each version but there are also cutscenes and a concluding boss battle that get their very own spin. Just like the mainline and Pokémon series, if you have a friend who owns another copy you can trade medals between one another both offline and online, so owning both isn't really essential. What both packages have over the initial Japanese release though is the bundled in free expansion Moon Rabbit Crew which adds 15 new Yokai, story missions, and new equipment for you to craft.
Blasters offers up to four player co-op both offline and online and each mission from the story can be played with other player-controlled Yokai. Story missions work as each player controls a Yokai each and absent player slots are substituted by the AI, always giving you a team of four. There's also the Wayfarers Coliseum which is your basement hideout and enables you to fight 1v1 with players online to see which one of you has the strongest team of Yokai. There's also trading which we touched upon earlier which extends replayability as you'll want to hook up with friends and other players if you are wanting to grab all of those 400 medals.
With its simplified battle system and RPG mechanics, Yokai Watch Blasters represents perhaps the most accessible point of entry for fans of the anime who have yet to delve deep into the mainline video games. It also bridges the gap for the third instalment nicely and provides an entertaining enough distraction that features the same cartoonish charm and monster collecting that the series is widely known for. It does feel repetitive though and the combat feels awfully bare bones if you don't make an effort to switch up your gear and supporting party. That being said, if you are a diehard Yo-Kai Watch fan or even somebody just itching to get into the games, we wouldn't recommend giving this one a miss.