Okamiden Review

By Alexandra Hall - Posted Mar 15, 2011

The first follow-up to Clover's standout Zelda tribute struggles mightily to ape the PS2/Wii original. But the DS can only go so far, and the toned-down graphics leave Okami's flaws in sharp relief. Grade-school dramatics and endemic hand-holding make Okamiden feel as immature as its protagonists.

The Pros
  • Impressive technical achievement
  • Stylus-as-brush works well
  • Lots of Okami fan service
The Cons
  • Banal cut-scenes bore to tears
  • Pervasive slowdown and iffy control
  • Lacks Okami's wonder, mystery

Okamiden Review:

With some exceptions, gamers know better than most that cuteness does not necessarily equal shallow and childish. One look at a Miyazaki film gives the lie to that, not to mention challenging, complex—and yes, cute—games like Super Mario Bros. Bright, “family-friendly” aesthetics need not correlate with dumbed-down gameplay. Indeed, sometimes the cutest games kick my butt the most.

But forget all that. For once, the anti-cute brigade is right: Okamiden ends up feeling exactly like the aged-down, kiddified version of Okami that it appears to be. From my perspective, that’s not a good thing.

Okamiden takes place a mere nine months after the world-changing events of Okami, in which the goddess Amaterasu resurrected as a white wolf and saved a land besieged by demons. Apparently she didn’t seal the deal, so now her cub Chibiterasu and the children of the other Okami heroes must repeat the heroics of their parents. Do you like boring children? I really hope you like boring children.

Just Because You Can Do Something...

Capcom deserves a few props, because Okamiden comes about as close as the DS can to reproducing a PS2 game. The DS dutifully approximates, to a degree, the original game’s Japanese brushwork-inspired art style, wide-roaming questing, and “celestial brush” magic system. In fact, that last is even better thanks to its use of stylus controls.

Whether or not Capcom should have tried is another question. The DS can only do so much, so while Okamiden is a valiant technical effort, it largely lacks Okami’s wonder and awe. Frequent slowdown, pokey movement, and clunky d-pad controls combine with the original game’s worst traits, such as long, insipid dialogues, a mashy battle system, a preponderance of hand-holding, and sparse, empty-feeling environments.

If you’ve played Okami you’ll recognize Okamiden immediately, as all the basics are there. It just looks drabber, controls worse (celestial brush aside), and annoys more, without the original’s fluid action or mesmerizing graphics to offset the negatives. I think a lush 2D art style, well within the capabilities of the DS, would have better served Okamiden’s gameplay.

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Elementary School is In

Okami tested many players’ patience with its numerous long dialogues; the Wii version made them skippable and Okamiden follows suit. But skipping these drawn-out jabber sessions isn’t really an option if you intend to follow the story, which is important given that this is an action-RPG.

So Okamiden makes you sit there, eyes glazing over, as children say extremely childish things to each other at a snail’s pace. Okamiden engages in these stilted theatrics for minutes at a time, and frequently. The writers ultimately try to convey a few heart-warming, universal truths about growing up and the like, but by the time I got to anything resembling a payoff the hours of banality had already shrunk my Grinch-like heart two sizes too small.

Then there’s the hand-holding. “You know how to fix this, don’t you?” my kiddie companion prods for the tenth time. I obligingly trace an outline and the requisite “magic” happens. But I feel only apathy. Where’s the dynamicism? The surprise? Sun goddess forbid, the challenge? Over time the game opens up and develops a little complexity, but this happens very, very slowly.

A good action-RPG makes me feel like I’m on a quest, performing epic deeds because dammit, someone’s gotta save the world. Okamiden feels more like a kindergarten play recital, with all of the magic and mystery that suggests. Maybe Amaterasu is sitting in the audience with a camcorder, barking excitedly.

Drawing a Blank

Me, I wasn’t jazzed. It’s not that I’m some insecure geek who only likes games that are serious mcgrimdark , it’s that Okamiden is more Blue’s Clues than universally appealing Miyazaki epic, and without the original game’s gee-whiz beautiful aesthetics or smooth, fast gameplay to shore up its numerous shaky points. Okamiden’s for hardcore fans and 10 year-olds only. If you’re both, all the better.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?