TGS 2010 - Okamiden Hands-on Impressions

In September, I attended Tokyo Game Show 2010 as press. These previews were originally posted at criticalgamer and my blog over at 1UP.

The spiritual successor to the critically acclaimed Okami, Okamiden looks to capture the charm and appeal of its predecessor and transfer it to the DS. Going by the TGS English demo, Capcom appear to be well on their way to doing just that.

Taking place after the events of the first game, the demo opens in a flooded forest with the player taking control of a young boy named Kuni and Chibiterasu, a celestial wolf cub born of the sun goddess Amaterasu. If merchandise is anything to go by, this adorable pup has already hit it off with the Japanese public with his likeness plastered on everything from mugs to keychains, and even his own pair of slippers. Exploration, puzzles and combat ensue as the pair take-in their distinctive surroundings, moving from the roof of a partially submerged temple to a darkened cave, whilst fighting off demons, interacting with NPCs, undertaking mini quests and bringing balance back to nature.

The Celestial Brush returns as the primary tool in overcoming obstacles. For those unfamiliar with Okami, the celestial brush allows you to defeat enemies or change your surroundings by way of a magical paint brush. By completing a simple set of strokes, it may be used to defeat enemies, reach previously inaccessible areas, and most importantly to rejuvenate flora tainted by an evil presence. This mechanic has benefited most from the transition to the DS, utilizing the stylus to great effect. With a press of either the L or R button the lower screen canvas appears, where your chosen target is displayed awaiting your brush. A circular stroke around a dead tree will revive it, whereas a simple slash through a weakened enemy will fell it once and for all, achieving in one simple stroke what would require numerous hacks with your regular weapon. Access to this powerful ability is limited to the number of ink pots in your possession, which are consumed at a steady rate as long as you have the celestial screen open, Increased paintbrush techniques become available as the game progresses, each requiring different strokes and suiting specific situations. This magical painting remains the most endearing aspect of the game, but the canvas is a little slow to appear when called upon and does lead to a loss of momentum and urgency during battle.

The controls are simple, and the paintbrush strokes are rather forgiving, so don't be fooled into thinking you need be a practiced calligrapher to pull off the celestial techniques. In fact, during combat the controls are a little too simple as the available battles can be cleared by simply hammering on the Y button, offering little in the way of a challenge.

The level in question was relatively small, but succeeded in capturing the feel of the Okami universe. There are winding trees, glistening water, a submerged temple and characters that appear to come straight out of Japanese folklore. The forest was populated with locals, many of whom are looking for your help. At the outset I was greeted by a fisherman pining for his stolen fishing kit, which of course I was required to locate and return. Perhaps not the most exciting of prospects, but such interactions are central to the game.

While Okamiden may have taken more of a child-like and cartoony approach to the series, the level on offer still boasts a unique, tranquil and memorable style. In places, it did appear a little rough around the edges, and there was a tendancy for the actions of the small characters to get lost against their striking surroundings. However, what the series may have lost in visual quality in its move to the DS, it more than makes up for by finding the ideal platform for the Celestial Brush.

Okamiden is set for release in Japan at the end of this month, with the English language version coming sometime in 2011. From what I have seen so far, the move to the DS appears to be a fruitful one, particularly in regards to the celestial brush, and Okamiden looks capable of achieving the kind of commercial success which eluded Okami.


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