Game Review: Okamiden (DS)

Okami was my Best Game of the Year for 2006. It was originally on the PS2 and later ported to the Wii. In the Zelda-style game, you played as a white wolf deity and had to save ancient Japan from evil. It featured beautiful unique graphics that looked like a Japanese painting and clever gameplay gimmicks like the Celestial Brush, which allowed you to draw on the screen to solve puzzles and defeat enemies. Now, finally, the sequel is here on the Nintendo DS. And it’s good. VERY GOOD.

Okamiden takes place about nine months after the events of the original game. The sun goddess Amaterasu, who appeared as the white wolf in the first game, travelled to the heavens after saving Japan. But evil has returned, so Amaterasu sends her son down to save the land once again. Her son appears as a white wolf puppy and is named Chibiterasu. Now it’s up to him and his newfound friends to master the Celestial Brush techniques and get rid of the bad guys for good.

The game plays quite a bit like a Zelda title. You explore open fields and delve into maze-like puzzle dungeons to collect items and tools to defeat boss enemies hiding within. You’ll tromp around a lot of the same locations as in the first game, but some things have changed. For instance, a flood has submerged Agato Forest so now it’s a lake.

As Chibiterasu travels around Japan, he’ll befriend some kids who will aid him on his quest. They’ll ride around on his back and each kid has his or her own special abilities for battles and solving puzzles. Some of your friends include Kuni, the son of Susano (the human hero from the first game), and even a mermaid girl.

One returning gameplay aspect is using the Celestial Brush, and it works like a charm with the DS touch screen and stylus. As you play, Chibiterasu will learn symbols you can draw to defeat enemies and solve puzzles. Draw a line across a boulder and it’ll split in two. Draw a circle in the sky and the sun will come out. Later on you’ll be able to draw bombs and other cool stuff. Your kid partners can also hop off your back and you can guide them with the brush when you need to split up and solve puzzles.

Battles are mostly the same as they were in Okami. Run up to a spirit scroll and the screen will change to an enclosed arena area and you must fight in real time, smacking demons with your weapons and dodging their attacks. You can also use your Celestial Brush slashes and other moves to help you defeat enemies as well. Sometimes you can just smack minor enemies while exploring without having to go into a separate battle screen. Boss monsters will require you to use all the skills you’ve learned so far and the fights can be pretty lengthy. You gain experience in the game by doing favors for people and bringing back life to the land. More experience means a bigger life bar and ink to draw with. You’ll want to draw circles around every dead tree you see!

Just like the first game, Okamiden features the graphic style that makes everything look like a Japanese painting. While it doesn’t look quite as good as the PS2 game, the visuals are still fantastic for being on a inferior handheld. It looks so good, that sometimes I even forget I’m playing this on the DS!

Okamiden does have some minor problems, but they’re so nitpicky that most don’t even matter. The game isn’t quite as ‘epic’ as the original Okami, but it’s hard to expect it to be as good as the Game of the Year in 2006. As with other 3-D games, sometimes camera angles can be cumbersome. Really the biggest problem is that the game needed more frequent save points, since this is on a handheld console.

Even so, Okamiden is brilliantly fantastic and one of the best games on the DS. Just as Okami rivaled and surpassed Zelda: Twilight Princess in its day, Okamiden is just as good as the handheld Zeldas. Plus, who wouldn’t want to play a game starring such a cute puppy?

Kid Factor:

Okamiden is rated E-10 for everyone 10 and up, with ESRB descriptors of Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, and Use of Alcohol and Tobacco. You do fight all manner of cartoony demons and monsters, but there are no gruesome acts or grisly death scenes. The only instance of blood I saw was a boss monster who wielded two stained cleavers. Some characters in the game smoke pipes and mention drinking, and some of your power-ups are called sake. But even though it’s rated 10 and up, I would let any kid play this game, just as long as they have good reading skills for all the text involved. Okamiden could also be considered educational, as the storyline and artwork reference Japanese myths and folklore. Plus, the storyline enforces friendship and teamwork. It almost seems like “Okami for Kids” with the puppy protagonist and young helpers and partners.

And don’t forget about the Okamiden Art Contest we’re doing until the end of March! Click here to read the rules and find out how you can win some adorable Okamiden puppy prizes!

Finally, I have to admit that it was kind of tough to play Okamiden this weekend, after the awful earthquake and tsunami that Japan had recently. I know it may sound silly, but I would like to dedicate this review to the folks over there as they deal with their grief and face the difficulties of rebuilding and repair. Let’s all take a moment to send our good prayers and thoughts to Japan right now.

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