Despite being involved with Nintendo Life, there are elements of the wider Nintendo world of which I am largely unaware and, until very recently, Yo-Kai Watch was one such element. Naturally, I knew of the series, its popularity in Japan and the rather drawn-out journey to the west, but I'd never actually played the game or experienced any of the related media - such as the TV show and the various toys available. To me, it was just another game that I'd occasionally have to write some news about, but little more.
However, when you have young kids, you can never rule out becoming more involved with such cross-media franchises. It all began rather innocuously, with my 8-year-old son explaining that one of his friends had received some "Yo-Kai medallions" as a giveaway on the front of a popular UK kids' magazine. I could tell his interest had been piqued, and proceeded to explain that yes, I did in fact know what Yo-Kai Watch was, but sadly my knowledge was limited to it being "a bit like Pokémon, but with ghosts". I could tell my ham-fisted description had intrigued and infuriated my son in equal measures, and that he was desperate to learn more about the franchise which had spawned these plastic discs his friend had shown him. In short, the hooks were in, and I was about to experience first-hand just how a beast like Yo-Kai Watch can ensnare its victims.
Not long after, we were in a toy shop and my son spotted the famous Yo-Kai Watch itself - a plastic toy into which the aforementioned plastic medallions were to be inserted. Despite his burgeoning interest in the series, he still had no real idea of what it was all about, and with its fairly steep price tag the watch was - for the time being - staying exactly where it was (sandwiched next to some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers, in case you were wondering). However, my enthusiastic offspring was not to be dissuaded, and was well pleased to discover that his favourite YouTube star (and EGX 2014 Mario Kart 8 finalist) StampyLongHead had begun to cover Yo-Kai Watch in the middle of his usual schedule of recording endless videos about Minecraft (another of my son's current obsessions). Suddenly the weird and wonderful world of Yo-Kai had become a little clearer; these strange characters were now that little bit more familiar and the premise infinitely more interesting.
It was a short jump to Nintendo's official YouTube account, where my son discovered and hungrily consumed the first episode of the animated TV show, which he then discovered was being broadcast on UK kids television. It has since become a regular watch, and the names of each Yo-Kai are bellowed out in our house on a regular basis as the world is fleshed out with stories, characters and a surprising number of fart-gags.
It's at this point that his desire for toys with which he can act out his Yo-Kai adventures became too powerful to ignore. As had been the case with Pokémon for 20 years, it seems like no merchandising opportunity has been overlooked with Yo-Kai Watch; the usual action figures are in evidence, and there's even a folder in which you can store your medallions. The keystone of the entire Hasbro-made range is of course the aforementioned watch, a bulky facsimile of the one showcased by protagonist Nate in the TV show. A set of pushdown sensors inside the watch read the arrangement of grooves on each medallion, unlocking a seemingly limitless number of audio samples within the device. Medallions come in packs of three with a pocket money price tag, and my hyperactive offspring practically had to be scraped off the ceiling when he discovered his first "legendary" medallion, fashioned from fetching semi-transparent gold plastic.
What makes this whole story of commercial dominance all the more remarkable is that the Yo-Kai Watch video game - the lynchpin of the entire franchise - was actually the last thing my son investigated. What struck me was the fact that he was already intimately familiar with the game world, its ghostly inhabitants and the appeal of collecting them long before the game was inserted into his 2DS; dashing gleefully around an interactive version of Springdale was simply the cherry on the top for him.
It might have taken a while for Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Europe to bring the series to their respective customers - and compared to Japan the series has garnered a slightly less explosive reception - but I've seen with my own eyes how the various pieces of the marketing puzzle elegantly fall into place under the right circumstances. What really struck me about this is that despite being involved with Nintendo every day via this very site, my son's love affair with Yo-Kai Watch blossomed with very little assistance on my part. I've done my best to encourage it, of course, and in doing so I've become more interested than I previously assumed possible.
Yo-Kai Watch has some way to go before it can be considered to be in the same league as Pokémon, although in its native Japan it's certainly well on its way. Success in the west might be harder to crack, but I'm more optimistic now I've seen how my son has taken so passionately to the series.