Remember when the first Okami game was released? You were probably like, “Well, that certainly looks different, and great.” It still looks great, particularly in a world dominated by games whose entire color palettes are limited to brown, dark brown, and darker brown. (Team Fortress 2 should be given an award for successfully using the color yellow in a shooter.) And just as importantly as looking good, the game now plays better than ever.
The Wii port of Okami was reasonably well-received, but the motion controls, which should have been bang-on, simply weren’t.
Not so in Okamiden, which comes out next year here in North America. It almost feels like the entire game concept was designed for the Nintendo DS.
When I was speaking to the game’s producer, Eshiro-san, he expressed much the same opinion. Nintendo announces the DS, then light bulbs go off at Capcom: a-ha, now here’s our system! (Incidentally, Eshiro-san also said he’s looking forward to seeing what the 3DS can offer, to see if game developers can make it anything more than a cheap parlor gimmick. Here’s hoping.)
You control Chibiterasu, perhaps the friendliest wolf under the sun, using a combination of the D-Pad and stylus. You can roam around as you like with the D-Pad, but then whip out the stylus when appropriate. By tapping the R button you pause the action, sorta like in Baldur’s Gate or Dragon Age: Origins, and bring up the paintbrush interface. You solve puzzles (“draw a circle around this flower” and the like), draw bridges, and pre-attack enemies all with the stylus.
If we can all agree that a mouse and keyboard is the only way to play first-person shooters—I’m telling you, anytime I decide to do a few round of Halo: Reach I feel like I’m trying to drive a lorry on the moon—then I think we can also agree that Okami on the DS is Where It’s At™.
Much like Sonic 4, the game is just fun to play; it’s a diversion, not an unnecessary source of stress, nor do you have to sit there and constantly reevaluate the morality of your actions.
One of the questions I asked Eshiro-san was how he felt living in a world where derivative shooter after derivative shooter—not mentioning any names, of course—regularly top the charts, but genuinely good games (the implication being the Okami series) are sorta left out in the cold. Critical acclaim but not much cash-money. He was very diplomatic, as you might expect. He said that gaming is big enough these days that there’s room enough for Manly Military Shooter and circle-the-flower-to-unlock-a-power-up-game out there where everyone’s interests can be served. That’s about what I expected from Eshiro-san.
And just for kicks, I asked Eshiro-san is he knew who Kazushi Sakuraba is, and he lit up and told me stories of a bunch of his past fights. It was a truly great moment.
If that doesn’t make you a fan of the man and his game I don’t know what to tell you.