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Okamiden


Okami all over again on the DS

Without a doubt, Okami was one of my favorite games of the last gaming generation. Drawing heavy influence from The Legend of Zelda, Okami struck out in its own direction with some gorgeous design, clever humor, and a new control scheme that allowed you to change your environment by drawing designs with your "celestial brush." The game was a breath of fresh air, a truly different gaming experience that still felt comfortably familiar. It was even popular enough to warrant a port to the Wii. After playing through Okami twice, I was understandably excited when I discovered that a sequel had appeared in the form of Okamiden for the DS.

okamiden fightingOkamiden follows the adventures of Chibiterasu, wolf pup of Okami's goddess wolf, Amaterasu. Chibi (as he's quickly dubbed by Issun in a cameo) descends to Earth nine months after the events of Okami, only to discover that his mother left some business unfinished. He sets his sights on righting the wrongs by some errant demons left behind in the wake of the last game's events.

Okamiden could easily have been dubbed "Okami Jr." Chibi is a smaller version of Amaterasu, with less initial power, although eventually he gains a nice collection of abilities, granted by the children of the gods who appeared in the first game. He also has a collection of child sidekicks. Despite the child-centric nature of the material, Okamiden still feels like a full fledged successor to Okami. At first glance, it appears like a retread, with Chibi retracing many of his mother's steps, but once the plot really gets going, it branches off in new and surprising directions.

Transplanting Okami to the DS makes a lot of sense, as the "celestial brush" mechanic is a natural fit for the DS' touch screen. While using an analog stick was surprisingly fluid on the PS2, there's no doubting that being able to directly draw on a surface is the best possible application of such a mechanic. The game's Japanese watercolor designs also translate well to the DS, although not without some inevitable loss of fidelity. Still, you'll find yourself recognizing plenty of familiar characters just through their appearance. Even the game's funny wub-wub dialog is retained.

okadamin reachingHowever, not all the game elements make the transition so smoothly. Much like the original game, Okamiden features long stretches of unskippable text. To be exact, these can be skipped, but at the expense of understanding the plot or even what to do next. At times the game will provide a big red arrow telling you where to go, but in general you have to decide for yourself where to go in order to advance the plot, so skipping the text is unwise. This habit was annoying in the original game, but when you're playing on a console in front of your TV, you're not going anywhere, so long blocks of text are understandble (if not entirely forgivable). On a portable system like the DS, the implication is that you are going somewhere, which is why you're playing on a self-contained device. For a game on the DS to have a lot of unplayable sections that require constant attention is just bad design.

If you can get past this issue, you'll find that Okamiden has a lot to offer. The new partner mechanic adds some interesting twists to puzzles, although other than a few head scratchers here and there, no one puzzle ever offered too much trouble. Combat isn't much changed from the first game, with basic melee being supplemented by celestial brush techniques. Your partner will also jump in and help out, something that even gets tracked for end of fight bonuses. The boss fights are appropriately large in scope and are quite exhilarating. Most importantly, while told mainly with static text, the story is involving and even touching at times.

Okamiden never feels like a giant leap forward, but it was never intended as such. Instead, it shows that the world of Okami is ripe for further adventures, and that they can appear in new and exciting forms. I can only hope a new console iteration of the series is being prepared, because I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to these lovable canines.