Okamiden is a fast-moving game. It starts out by recapping the events of both the original Shiranui/Nagi legend and the story of Okami in about five minutes, then jumps right into its own story, which takes off almost too quickly. Issun’s very first meeting with Chibiterasu is something along the lines of:
“Huh? A white wolf? Where’d you come from? And why are you barking at the sky like that? Wait, you don’t mean to tell me you’re Ammy’s son and can use all her powers as well?! Okay, let’s give it a shot then!”
Within the first fifteen minutes of the game, I’d acquired a Celestial Brush, met a whole bunch of characters from the original game, like Mr. and Mrs. Orange, Kushi and Susano, Sakuya, and the rest of Kamiki Village’s residents. The crazy part? The game doesn’t even begin in Kamiki Village, so the first fifteen minutes actually included a short trip to the place as well.
Okamiden doesn’t attempt to cover up the fact that it’s a sequel to a game. You often hear developers talk about how, despite the fact that [insert name of a sequel] isn’t the first game in the series, newcomers won’t feel unwelcome, and that they’ve tried to make it even more accessible to a wider audience than the previous title. Okamiden doesn’t do this. Instead, it makes a very hurried attempt at convincing you that if you loved the original Okami, you’ll enjoy your time with the sequel as well, by throwing you right back into Nippon, with another demon invasion imminent.
Chibiterasu’s introduction is abrupt, and there’s little to no background provided for Okamiden’s supporting cast…they’re just “there,” and they haven’t changed all that much from Okami. It feels a little unoriginal; almost as if Okamiden assumes that it can replicate Okami’s feel by using the same characters and setting.
The familiar Celestial Brushes are back in Okamiden, too, and like everything else, they come your way rather quickly. While the early brushes themselves aren’t different at all from the original game, since Okamiden is built for the Nintendo DS, they’re controlled differently.
Okamiden takes place on the DS’ top screen, with the touch screen controlling the menus and camera. When you press or hold the L or R button, the game pauses, and the top screen drops down to the touch screen with the familiar paper filter that lets you use the Celestial Brush (or Celestial Stylus, if you prefer).
In the Wii version of Okami, using the Celestial Brush techniques was a simple matter of holding the B trigger and drawing using the pointer. In Okamiden, it’s a little more annoying than that because there’s a little bit of a lag during the time that the top screen takes to come down to the bottom touch screen. In fact, even the menu tabs in Okamiden tend to lag a little. I couldn’t tell whether this was intentional or not.
The other difference is that Okamiden requires you to constantly shift between using buttons and the stylus. This means holding the stylus in your mouth while performing attacks, then quickly pulling it out of your mouth to use a Celestial Brush technique before putting it right back. Using the Power Slash is easy, since you can usually use your thumb instead of the stylus to draw a quick line, but all the other techniques require use of the stylus, as thumbs are too thick to be accurate. It’s a little easier if you can hold the stylus in your hands while playing the game, but it’s still annoying, having to switch back and forth. I might have preferred it had the game been entirely touch-controlled instead.
Another quirk you’ll eventually notice is that there’s no “button” that allows you to re-centre the camera when you want either. Instead, there are two small digital arrows (left/right) on the sides of the touch screen that you can use to rotate the camera, and a third one at the bottom that allows you to re-centre. Luckily, as long as you don’t make any sharp 180-degree turns, the camera does manage to keep up with you by itself, but having to move my free hand down to the bottom of touchscreen when I wanted to manually re-centre was difficult.
Okamiden feels like Capcom took a console game and tried to re-create it as best as they could, at least functionally, on a portable system, and this has both advantages and disadvantages. One major upside is that the game looks beautiful.
This is another one of those times I found myself marvelling at how YouTube videos or even high-res trailers from Capcom don’t convey the beauty of Okamiden quite like seeing it on an actual Nintendo DS screen. It’s bright, colourful, and the art style works really well within the limitations of the Nintendo DS. You can tell it’s really pushing the limits of the DS, too, as the framerate tends to slow down a little in some spots.
The downside is that your viewing angle isn’t as large as in the original game, due to the size and resolution of the DS screen. This makes it harder to appreciate the changes you make to the world around you, unless you’re watching a cutscene.
One of the greatest pleasures of Okami was simply running around Shinsu Field as fast as you could, racing the maniac mailman, leaping across streams, bringing life to the plants and rivers, and admiring all the good you were doing, the people you were helping, and the lives you were changing. Okamiden didn’t give me that same feeling, partly because it’s been “down-sized” and partly because I already knew what to expect, having done it all before.
If you’d like to read more about Okamiden, we’d recommend looking at our import playtest of the game from last year, which goes into greater depth about the Celestial Brush techniques and the puzzles.