When Clover Studio’s Okami launched for the PlayStation 2 more than four years ago it stunned critics across the board and became a masterpiece overnight; hailed for its superfluous combination of traditional action adventure elements with the unique Celestrial Brush mechanics and stunning hand-painted visuals. However, despite chalking up a Metacritic average of 93 (which still stands today,) Okami failed to shift as many units as Capcom had anticipated. You see, as Okami launched in early 2007, so too did the PlayStation 3 which also locked horns with the Xbox 360, both next-gen platforms sapping interest away from their older counterparts. Ultimately, Okami was a victim of launching too late into the PlayStation 2’s lifetime; though still referred to as a peerless classic, sales would have been dramatically bolstered if it had just been launched 18 months earlier.
If you are one of the more intuitive readers out there, you have most likely clocked onto where this brief history lessons leads. Yes, as the Nintendo DS has finally begun to lose steam, recently succeeded by its more feature-heavy, 3D counterpart, Okami makes a second outing, the final torch-bearer stood before the pyre, fated to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps.
Straight off the bat, you will notice Okamiden’s biggest change since the original PlayStation title. Instead of playing as sun goddess Amaterasu, you instead assume the role of her son, Chibiterasu, summoned by the Konohana Sprite Sakuya. Nine months after Amaterasu’s showdown with Dark Lord Yami, the demons have returned to the land of Nippon and it’s up to Chibi to find the source of the treacherous threat and free the people from its tainted grasp.[drop]Along the way you will bump into a plethora of different character, some you will recognise from the original Okami, others completely new to the series. Like in the first game, Chibi is accompanied by a sidekick, though they change on occasion. Each partner, including Kuni (the adopted son of Okami’s sake-loving swordsman Susano), Nanami the mermaid, Kagu the mystic and Kurow have their own unique abilities which combine with Chibi’s in order to tackle the game’s many puzzles.
Okamiden is best described as an action adventure title, linear yet with plenty of open environments. Players follow a continuous single path along which some locations are revisited, but apart from the occasional treasure hunt, there is little incentive to stray too far from your objectives. Like Okami, the gameplay is mainly focused on the “Celestrial Brush” mechanics which are used for both puzzle-solving and combat. At any time, you can press one of the shoulder buttons to pause the game and bring up the brush interface which is displayed on the bottom screen. Using a certain brush stroke will activate one of Chibi’s many powers, from cherry bombs and sword cuts, to vines and water sprouts.
Each dungeon in Okamiden has an attached theme which will usually set the tone for the puzzles ahead. Most of them are fairly easy to solve, though Okamiden makes good use of the partner mechanic to make things a little more challenging. For instance, some puzzles will require Chibi and his partner to separate, the player then having to guide both simultaneously down different paths while trying to avoid numerous hazards.
One aspect of Okami, and indeed its sequel, which feels a tad undeveloped is the combat. Encounters are triggered by touching one of the many wandering demon scrolls, teleporting the player to an enclosed arena, in a similar fashion to Final Fantasy or Pokémon, but without the random factor. To defeat your demonic opponents, you have the Celestrial Brush and Chibi’s sun disc at your disposal. Using the latter weapon is as simple as hitting the Y button, while occasionally dodging enemy blows. There is little in the way of a complex combo system but, as you progress in Okamiden, you can unlock new weapons which have different speed and strength statistics.
At any time during a fight, you can also use the brush, limited to a number of strokes equal to the amount of ink you’re carrying. Though techniques such as the cherry bomb and sword slash work on just about any enemy, each one has a particular weakness which, if exploited, will reward the player with components to upgrade their weaponry. However, the only way to find these weaknesses is by experimenting, which becomes a necessity due to the fact that weapon parts cannot be obtained any other way. Despite the boss battles being incredibly fun, regular combat feels too enclosed and lacks the sort of depth and diversity needed to hold the player’s interest.[drop2]The game starts at quite a sluggish pace, and never really seems to pick up. The repetitive structure will have you entering a dungeon, discovering a new brush technique, tackling puzzles, and defeating a boss, the cycle starting again. Even if you like to play video games at a steady pace, Okamiden’s tempo is still likely to grate.
Being one fo the original Nintendo DS’s final big profile releases isn’t all bad news. Okamiden is undoubtedly one of the best-looking titles for the handheld, retaining a vibrant palette of colours channeled through a hand-painted, cel-shaded visual style. The frame-rate is faultless, and it’s surprising how Capcom have managed to cram in so many open environments without a single load-screen in sight.
- Gameplay translates perfectly from the original Okami
- The ink brush cell-shading still looks divine
- Plenty of content that will easily push players past the 12-hour mark
- Characters are charming and humorous at times
- Huge environments and set-piece action without the loading screens
- Okamiden’s structure can get repetitive and tiresome
- Combat feels undeveloped and limited
- Not enough in-game guidance surrounding the weapon upgrade system
- The first hour or so can feel like a grind, especially for Okami veterans
Okamiden isn’t the full blown sequel some will have been anticipating. It introduces very few new mechanics, and is easily a few steps behind the PlayStation 2 original in terms of visuals. With that said, Okamiden is a technological milestone for the Nintendo DS, sprinting through the handheld’s minefield of shameful shovelware to deliver one final experience for players to enjoy before they beam themselves into the third dimension.