Did you play Okami? One of only a few games from the fantastically talented Clover Studio? The game that provoked a collective swoon from the critics of our beloved little industry, with big fat 9s and 10s decorating the pages of reviews across the board? In VideoGamer.com's very own review, we gave the game a respectable 9, lauding its world as 'so lush, visually stunning and complete within itself that you just want to lose yourself in it'. Kind words indeed. So, if you haven't played the game yet - make it your mission to do so over the following months. That way, when its DS sequel Okamiden arrives early next year, you'll know exactly why the industry is so excited about it.
Bringing the sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time to the DS might seem like a strange choice at first, but Nintendo's handheld couldn't be more appropriate. Okami was a game that endowed players with the power of the Celestial Brush; a divine artistic instrument that could draw objects into existence (amongst other things). A touchscreen device, therefore, takes advantage of this mechanic perfectly. In addition to this, the game's cel-shaded watercolour-esque aesthetic scales down to the small screen incredibly well - Okamiden looks nothing short of gorgeous.
The sequel switches out the Sun-Godess Amaterasu for her unbearably cute pup, Chibiterasu. Like his mother, Chibiterasu is gifted with the ability to use the Celestial Brush, although lacks the power and acrobatic prowess that made Amaterasu such a formidable protagonist. Thankfully, Chibiterasu is joined by a young human companion, the equally adorable Kuni, son of the swordsman Susano from the original game. Probably due to the oversized sword he carries about, Kuni travels about on the back of Chibiterasu - a sight of such combined cuteness, it's impossible not to let out an audible "aww" when you first see it.
Okamiden takes place three months after the events of Okami, where despite Amaterasu's best efforts to ride Nippon of the Dark Lord Yami, his evil forces have returned to plague the lands once more. Sakuya, the Konohana Sprite from the original game tries to summon Amaterasu again, but instead ends up with Chibiterasu. Along with Kuni, it falls to the young pup to rid Nippon of its foul intruders. The original was often compared to Nintendo's Zelda series in terms of its structure and execution, and Okamiden follows in a very similar vein.
The demo I played was more of a training level than anything else; an introduction to the Celestial Brush, Kuni and the kind of puzzles the game is set to include. The first of the brush's powers allows objects such as bridges to be drawn into existence, opening up previously inaccessible areas. By tapping the L or R buttons, a sepia film is pulled over the bottom display, allowing the player to draw on the screen; the stylus literally becoming the Celestial Brush. Later on in the training, the same technique can be used to trace the outlines of star constellations (which summons the offspring of other Gods) and bring flowers to bloom on otherwise dead and lifeless trees.
Many of the puzzles revolve around Kuni, who needs to be guided to levers and switches that Chibiterasu cannot reach. To do this, a path needs to be drawn on the touch screen, which Kuni will then faithfully follow. Chibiterasu is usually the one fending off enemies, so when Kuni is off by himself, you have to be mindful of enemies and other dangers.
One of the last brush skills I was taught was an offensive move; by drawing a horizontal slash through an enemy in paint mode, you can literally slice it in half once the action resumes. Combining this with Chibiterasu's repertoire of attacks makes for a fairly entertaining combat system, with plenty of options to dispatch of the Dark Lord Yami's forces. It's a much simpler version than that of the original, but works perfectly on the handheld.
From the little I saw of it, it's safe to say that Okamiden deserves success; both critically and commercially. Despite being charming, unique and immensely playable, the original Okami could only be considered a failure from a sales perspective. Its popularity has grown in recent years, however, and with any luck the sequel will be the triumph the first wasn't.
Okamiden will be available on the Nintendo DS in 2011