I can't review Okamiden without sneaking in some appreciation for the original. Okami was released for Playstation 2 and managed to rub me in all the right ways. Beautiful environments, atmospheric music and some surprisingly well-made Zelda-like gameplay made it one of the best games of 2007. Most important of the whole thing was the visual design, though. Okami was simply beautiful, with its painted style and with the flowers that grew wherever you put your paws. Okami is, together with Odin Sphere and Shadow of the Colossus, one of the best looking games that you can experience on the PS2.
Sadly, Okami had more in common with Shadow of the Colossus. The two games were released relatively late in the machine's life and pressed as much juice as possible out of the already old hardware. The machine coughed and stuttered and the framerate tended to drop when too much happened at the same time on the screen. The flow was too easily disrupted, and already during my first time with the games I wished for remakes or that Clover Studios and Team Ico had chosen to wait for the Playstation 3 instead. But enough about the past. Soon I'll get my remake of Shadow of the Colossus. And instead of Okami HD I get Okamiden.
Almost a year has passed since the first game and the sun goddess, in her wolf form, has given birth to a small pup. It's as shining white as its mother and has similar powers. Once again ancient Japan needs to be saved, as the demons have returned, the land has been poisoned and turned dark and quite disturbingly purple.
With a divine paintbrush the environments need to be cleansed from all the evil. Dead trees strike out in bloom when the brush touches them and with a circular motion cursed areas are purified. When the sun rises, the darkness gives way and beautiful leaves sweep across the land I get the same warm feeling that I got back in 2007.
Not surprisingly, the painting feels a lot more natural on a Nintendo DS than it did with a Dual Shock. Whenever I want to I can pause the battlefield and turn the fight into a painting and I defeat my enemies by drawing bombs or cuts from a sword. The fights have been made easier than in the original game, but they seldom get boring. One button for attack, one defensive move and the brush is enough to keep the violence interesting.
There are also different strategies to beat up different kinds of demons. Refraining from simple button mashing gets even more important when fighting any of the well-designed bosses. My absolute favorite is the pipe-smoking demon witch with gigantic meat cleavers. The megalomanic fish is a close runner-up.
The world itself is also simplified. The camera controls are a bit tricky, but luckily I don't have to use it very often since the camera automatically focuses on points of interest. Chibiterasu, the pup, happily explores the areas but while he might be the sun goddess' only son he often needs help. Who gets to ride around on him changes throughout the game, but get ready for a whole range of snot-nosed brats. Together we infiltrate the monster-infested areas, like the demon market where the souls of merchants that have been killed by dissatisfied customers are doomed to sell body parts to their hungry captors for all eternity. Or well, until we get there with our magic brush.
Okami's strength was, as noted above, its beautiful surface. Okamiden follows the same design, but sadly fails to live up to the original. Two small DS screens and a new set of old hardware simply isn't enough. The overall feeling is there, but whenever the game zooms in and everything becomes terribly low-res I get paranoid and have to make sure there isn't a giggling PC-gamer sitting behind me. History repeats itself. I actually get the same impression that I got from Okami - couldn't they have waited until we had a more powerful machine, like a certain handheld console with a 3D-screen...
But despite these flaws, Okamiden delivers in many other ways. The fun of exploring is there. There's a lot of stuff to find, a lot of variation in the different areas and the puzzles are just as challenging as they should be. I love running across Japan's open fields and mysterious forests. Some low-resolution flowers might not be the worst thing in the world, after all.