Originally released on the Playstation 2 in it's dying years, Okami went largely ignored, before being remade for the Wii (which fared a bit better). It seems fitting then, that the sequel, Okamiden, was released on the DS about a week before it's successor, the 3DS, was released, to continue the game's tradition of releasing on a console during its twilight years. As Okamiden suggests, however, the DS is far from dead and done.
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Set in ancient Japan, some nine months or so after the original game, the land has been invaded by demons once more. The tree-spirit and guardian of Kamiki Village, Sakuya, tries to summon the celestial dog Amaterasu - who defeated the demons before - but ends up getting her son instead, the lovable puppy Chibiterasu. Like his mother, he also has the power to wield the Celestial Brush, which allows him to summon the sun, make trees bloom, and magic fireworks out of thin air.
The Celestial Brush is quite possibly the most important thing in the whole of Okami, as it's through this you can fight the demons, and turn the world back to how it was. The demons, being the evil creatures they are, have possessed the Guardian Saplings, which in turn has lead to the suppression of the entire land. Fields that once blossomed sit bare, and streams trickle no more. As Chibiterasu, it's up to you to find the Guardian Saplings, and free them from the demon boss that guards them, to bring colour and life back to the land, by using the Celestial Brush.
By pressing the L or R button, at any time, you can switch the view from the top screen to the bottom, which sets you up for wielding the Celestial Brush.
While you don't have free reign to draw what you want, there are a number of different things you can scetch on the touch screen, each with different results. A quick swipe across the screen produces a line that can cut enemies and objects; a circle around a possessed tree will cause it to blossom again; and a line from your parter to a chest or switch will guide them to it - and that's not all. Every so often, you'll come across constellations of various animal gods, which, when you've traced their outline, will bestow their special power upon you, to use whenever you want. You'll need to be both quick and concise when drawing, though, as you'll only have thirty seconds to finish (or fifteen, if you're in a battle), as well as a limited supply of ink - although you rarely ever get close to the limit, and if you do run out of time, you can always have another go, so it's not the end of the world.
What can be a bit annoying though, is that the Celestial Brush can be quite picky with how you draw stuff. For example, sometimes you'll draw the best circle ever, but if you don't close the circle well enough, it won't accept it, and the ink just gets blown away when you unpause it. That being said, it's nowhere near a game-breaking fault, and extra inkpots, which you need to wield the Celestial Brush in the first place, are plentiful, being in pretty much every jar you break, so it's unlikely to hinder your progress in the slightest.
What may hinder your progress, is that a few bosses into the game, the amount of time you're allowed to use the Celestial Brush for is hugely reduced. For example, one boss, who's a catfish, has a hook in his mouth, and there's a flower you can grapple onto at the top of the screen. You'll need to grapple onto the flower by drawing a line between Chibi and the flower, and once you're up there, quickly draw another between the hook in the catfish's mouth and the flower - and then, once he's hanging there, you finally get to attack him with the Y button. It's incredibly awkward to set up, because the catfish just doesn't have his mouth open for that long - so by the time you're up on the flower, he's long gone.
However, it's not all fighting and painting. As he's still only a puppy, everyone's favourite wolf-thing isn't quite as all-powerful as his mother once was, and so, it's up to Chibiterasu to gain the support of a number of companions over the course of the adventure. Your companions will ride along with you on your back, and each comes with their own ability, which can be used to solve various puzzles, and help out in fights. Each of these childlike companions has their own nickname for Chibiterasu, which becomes a bit of a running joke throughout the game, as Chibi doesn't seem to be a massive fan of any of the nicknames, looking a bit fed up with a rain cloud above his head when Nanagi the mermaid christens him Squiddy, and Kuni calls him Mutt.
While the over-arching story involves ridding the world of the demons, as a wise man once said, it's not the destination, but the journey that counts, as the story in Okamiden is one of the highlights. Whether you're locating the pyrotechnic's firework-making items, so he can make some fireworks to cheer up the little girl who only has one year to live, or finding a load of fishing equipment for the hunter to give to his son, who would rather fish than hunt, there's a huge variety of things you might be asked to do - and what you need to find is detailed in the Manifest section of the scroll menu. Many quests involve fetching items, which tend to be hidden in chests about the place, or held by demons wandering round (represented by big scrolls with a purple/red mist around them). When you're not searching for someone's misplaced stuff, you'll be chatting with one of Ancient Japan's many interesting people, or simply exploring the land, and righting wrongs you see in your quest to rid the land of the demons - clearing up 'cursed land' (purpley red patches of land, that can be transformed by drawing a circle around them), making bare trees burst into bloom (also by drawing circles round them) and piecing together the several paintings that you can find fragments of all over Japan.
One slight disappointment is that it can often be tricky to tell where you're supposed to go next - at one point, I was sure I was supposed to be heading to some beach, but I couldn't find any signposts that said "Beach", and as there isn't a section in the menu for 'where to head next', I just ended up wandered around a bit, until I eventually found the place that was the right way...
And to be honest, I'm glad I stuck with it, as it led me to one of my favourite bits of the game. Asking us to sneak into a "demon market", where a boy and a dog would stick out like a sore thumb, the only logical thing we could do was to disguise ourselves. Luckily, it seems demons aren't too bright, and can be fooled by a simple cloth with a 'demon-y' face drawn on - faces which you can draw yourself with your celestial brush. So Kuni and Chibi were wondering round with badly-drawn frowny faces, with some chuffing angry eyebrows drawn on. Well, since when have you seen a smiley demon?
Okamiden is a massive game - how they managed to fit so much of old Japan onto one cartridge is a mystery. A funny, simple adventure with cute characters (I managed to make it to the end without mentioning it!), that hopefully doesn't get ignored in the 3DS rush, this is one of the highlights of the DS - and proof, if you ever needed it, that there's life in the console yet. Buy it, and show Capcom that their efforts haven't been in vain.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS