Okamiden preview

Capcom’s massively underrated Okami gets a new lease of life on the Nintendo DS, with the forthcoming Okamiden. And here’s our preview…

Despite glowing reviews and a sterling pedigree, Capcom’s Okami was an adventure game which failed to garner the attention it deserved.

Originally released on the PS2 in 2006, Okami introduced a style of gameplay which, while bearing similarities to Nintendo’s Zelda series, distinguished itself with a striking, often beautiful visual style influenced by traditional Japanese prints and watercolours, as well as a unique Celestial Brush play mechanic.

Sadly, it may well have been Okami’s uniqueness that put the wider game-playing public off – the unusual decision to have the player controlling a wolf, as opposed to a human protagonist, may have been a contributing factor to its commercial failure, though the fact that the game came so late in the PS2’s lifecycle may also have played a part.

Even an almost flawless port to the Wii failed to ignite interest in Hideki Kamiya’s stylistically daring game, though this was almost certainly due to a lack of marketing.

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For most properties, such commercial failure would result in a quiet burial, but thankfully, one of the most under-played games ever has been given another chance, with a new sequel, called Okamiden, scheduled to appear on the Nintendo DS.

Like its predecessor, Okamiden will again feature the innovative Celestial Brush mechanic, where the player solves puzzles by painting shapes on the game’s environment. While the Celestial Brush could occasionally prove unwieldy on the PS2, and sometimes awkward even on the Wii, the DS’s stylus control should be a perfect fit, providing the accuracy and intimacy lacking in those earlier iterations.

Okamiden’s protagonist is the impossibly cute Chibiterasu, a much younger version of the original’s Amaterasu the Sun God, whose task is to rid the watercolour world of demons. Chibiterasu is also joined by several human characters – how many isn’t yet clear – who ride around on the wolf cub’s back and help to solve the game’s numerous environmental puzzles.

The gameplay demos and trailers revealed so far demonstrate just how beautifully the original Okami’s art style has been ported to the DS. Nintendo’s handheld may be getting a little long in the tooth now, but the quality of Chibiterasu’s movements is as fluid and engaging as ever.

Capcom’s decision to make Okamiden’s characters smaller and more childlike is a cunning way of using fewer polygons while maintaining the series’ distinctive look, and the result is a game which retains the atmosphere of Okami, while at the same time introducing a charm all its own.

Although created by a different team of designers, Okamiden also remains faithful to the original in terms of gameplay, with the same blend of exploration, combat and problem solving, though there have also been a few tweaks to better fit the DS’s limitations – the roaming camera of the first game has been replaced by a fixed one, which gently guides your eye along the correct path, while the handheld’s twin screens have been fully employed, with the touch-sensitive lower screen flicking between a map view and the game’s 3D environment, allowing you to draw directly onto the landscape.

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Using the Celestial Brush was a pleasure even on the PS2, and experimenting with its effects on the DS should prove to be a real pleasure.

Okamiden is due out in Japan in September, but the translated version isn’t due out in the west until next year, which could bring its release perilously close to the release of the DS’s successor, the 3DS. With the original Okami released in the dying days of the PS2, this sounds worryingly like history repeating itself, and we only hope that Okamiden enjoys the success which so cruelly eluded its forebears.

If enough people rush out and buy Okamiden, a sequel for Nintendo’s new handheld would be assured. And the prospect of Chibiterasu appearing on the more powerful 3DS – in three dimensions, to boot – is a genuinely exciting one.

We’ll bring you more news on Okamiden’s progress to our shores as we get it – until then, feast your eyes on the latest trailer from the E3 Expo. Stunning.