Okami's Descendant Finds A Cozy Home On The DS
Okami on the PlayStation 2 introduced innovative brush stroke gameplay using an analogue stick. The Wii version capitalized on motion control technology to replicate the act of swiping paint across a canvas. Though both these versions of Okami delivered the franchise’s signature gameplay adequately, there’s no arguing that the Nintendo DS’s stylus seems the most natural choice for mimicking brushstrokes. With that in mind, Okamiden sets out to be one of the best-suited games for the DS.
Players take control of Chibiterasu, the next sun god in line to save the world from impending darkness. With a name like Chibi, we’re obviously dealing with an adorable wolf pup character. Because of her reduced size, Chibi is roughly half as powerful as her mother Amaterasu. Luckily, Kuni – descendent of Okami’s dubious hero Susano – is available to bolster Chibi’s power levels. The foolhardy, insurmountable Kuni isn’t the only partner who will ride Chibi across the land, as Okamiden is packed with a variety of unrevealed partners along the way.
Friendship and cooperation is the overarching theme of Okamiden. In the demo I played, Chibi and Kuni were constantly solving puzzles and communicating together. A new Celestial Brush technique, called Guidance. With this new technique, players can command Kuni to dismount Chibi, then toggle Celestial Brush mode and trace a line from the tiny swordsman to an onscreen destination. For example, some bridges are too fragile for both heroes to traverse, so Kuni must cross it alone. Meanwhile, Chibi is free to fight enemies or flip switches to disable obstacles Kuni may encounter. If you direct Kuni to a treasure chest, the teammate will automatically obtain the item and give it to Chibi once the two are reunited. It’s a simple gameplay mechanic, but one that I can already tell will be fleshed out with creative and fun puzzles.
Okamiden would still be plenty fun if Guidance was the only Celestial Brush technique available, but naturally the game redraws classic gestures from Okami. Bloom still causes dead tree branches to magically burst with pink petals, and Power Slash still rends obstructing boulders in two. Power Slashing an enemy mid-battle and sketching circles around plant life feels incredibly accurate and consumes less time than using a shaky Wii remote. There are still moments where a pen stroke won’t register, but overall I found the stylus less annoying than the original Okami’s spotty controls. The Celestial Brush gameplay mechanic is a natural fit for the DS, and I can’t wait to see what other ways the game takes advantage of its technology.
Okamiden’s remaining gameplay remains largely unchanged from Okami. Players use the d-pad to navigate a slightly less expansive gameworld. Initially you may miss the accuracy of an analogue stick, but Okamiden’s levels appear to be designed to accommodate the d-pads eight basic directions. Battle is still largely the same, except that all non-brush attacks are mapped to one button and fights occur randomly. It’s a bit agitating to suddenly get whisked away to the battle arena, since you can’t see the majority of your foes on the world map, but the streamlined fun of weaving together Celestial Brush moves and physical moves washes away any lasting gripes. Overall, Okamiden’s combat feels far less punishing than in the original game, but given this is a demo I only encountered weaker baddies from early on in the game.
If you’re cringing at the idea of packing a 30-plus hour story similar to Okami’s into a handheld, you should wipe the stupid look off your face. Okamiden is set to run about 20 hours. Combine the distilled playtime with the fact that you can bring this game anywhere, and you have the recipe for the perfect on-the-go adventure.
Visuals in the original Okami stunned gamers with its living oil painting aesthetic. Very little is lost in the move to the ever-surprisingly powerful DS. Chibi and Kuni travel through lush green environments filled with boldy-outlined architecture and scenery reminiscent of ancient Japan. Rejuvenating withering plant life still appears to be a central focus of the game, and it’s still rewarding as ever to witness these explosions of vibrant pink and blue pastels. Chibiterasu and Kuni themselves look fantastic, and seeing the duo bond along their journey is sure to elicit some hushed “awws” from gamers young and old. Environments so far seem less open and more condensed compared to Okami, but there’s always a chance that there will be an overworld announced in the future.
Everything about Okamiden’s development on the Nintendo DS makes sense. Players draw familiar Celestial Brush strokes on the touchscreen, a natural next step for the series. The cast is composed of the younger, tinier descendants of Okami’s cast, so the game’s more focused scope fits well on a portable platform. Finally, the beautiful Sumi-e inspired graphics hold up remarkably well on the DS, resulting in the best looking game I’ve ever seen on the handheld. We’ll definitely be keeping our eyes on this game as more details emerge leading up to the game’s 2011 release.