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Okamiden preview: Puppy power


Okami, in addition to being a beautiful and technically impressive game, fulfilled the role of Zelda substitute for PS2 owners. The exploration and gradual acquisition of new abilities gave Clover Studios' adventure a similar feeling to 3D Zelda games, on a console that didn't have any Zelda games. By hewing to the same formula, Okamiden acts as a surrogate 3D Zelda for the DS, a system that has Zelda games, but only nontraditional, stylus-controlled ones.

I bring this up because it's a pretty simple shorthand for understanding how the game works: there are large field areas connecting towns, there are a series of upgradeable abilities, dungeons filled with puzzles that require the use of the abilities you just picked up, and partners who do all the talking for you.


We return to the world of Nippon nine months after the sun goddess Amaterasu descended in wolf form to defeat the demon Orochi. The people are already starting to forget Amaterasu, and evil suddenly returns to the land, darkening the sky around entire areas, weakening sacred cherry trees, and allowing demons to return. The sprite Konohana attempts to call Amaterasu back in, but instead brings Chibiterasu, her son, who -- conveniently -- lacks most of the abilities gathered throughout the first game and basically doesn't know what's going on. Chibiterasu then travels Nippon to defeat demons and use the Celestial Brush to restore nature and even repair items, all aided by a series of young adventurers, including Kuni, the son of former Amaterasu ally Susano.

With Kuni in tow, Chibiterasu restores the goddess of a village's magical cherry tree, and then travels into a cave to defeat a giant, demonic frog. Kuni and Chibiterasu learn the first couple of brush techniques from the children of other animal gods, all of whom are completely adorable. Chibi learns how to use the brush to draw a path for Kuni, allowing him to pick up items or go stand on switches.

Other partners I met include the mermaid Nanami, who can spout water at things in the path of a line you draw, the actress Kagu, whose ability to throw prayer slips at anything along a user-drawn line becomes necessary when her theater is overrun with demons, and Kurow, a mysterious floating boy who can, um, float. Each partner worked with Chibiterasu through a quest to save his or her own town (with the exception of Kurow, who had just joined up when I stopped to write), going through a single dungeon on the puppy-god's back.

Where Okamiden breaks from the Zelda formula is in combat. Like Okami before it, Okamiden's battles are contained within cursed "arenas" represented on the field by single, floating monsters. Should you touch one, you're transported into a circular arena to face between one and five monsters, ranging from weak humanoid demons to flying knife-dragons, most of whom are vulnerable not just to Chibiterasu's combo attacks with the yo-yo-like Reflector, but also slashing cuts, bombs, and other offensive Celestial Brush abilities.

Shrinking the game down for the DS has resulted in a couple of issues. The graphics are clearly not as nice as they were on the PS2, which is a shallow complaint, I know -- but so much of Okami's impact was from the amazing, watercolor-style visuals. The camera can be a little ... upsetting, as well, struggling to keep up when Chibiterasu bounces around the screen in a combo. The digital controls also feel a bit restrictive in a 3D platformer.

If miniaturizing the game isn't a total success, miniaturizing the characters is. Chibiterasu is so, so cute. And I appreciate the slight tweak of the game-protagonist trope: the hero is totally silent, except when barking enthusiastically in agreement.

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