By Michael Mendis
One of the recent trends in gaming is for the bigger game companies to look back into their portfolio of old games and re-release some of them on new consoles. This gives old games a chance to gain new audiences, and in the process these classics often get a fresh coat of paint thanks to the power of new hardware. One of the latest games to receive this treatment is Okami, a classic PS2 action-adventure game from 2006. Directed by famed developer Hideki Kamiya (best known for having directed the critically acclaimed Devil May Cry series), Okami became a cult hit among gamers for its colorful artstyle and clever implementation of Japanese culture. I never played it back when it first came out, but now that it has been re-released on current generation consoles, I’ve picked up a copy and played a couple hours into the game.
In Okami, you play as the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu, who has taken the form of a white wolf in order to protect the world from the evil god Orochi. After a somewhat long-winded intro, you are set free into the game world, restoring the local village and surrounding region that has been attacked by demonic forces. As you go about your task you encounter a variety of characters, including other divine spirits as well as the simple human residents of the village. The story being told here (at least at this early point in the game) is fairly light-hearted; your wise-cracking, bug-like companion is a consistent source of comedic relief, and many of the other characters are goofballs in their own ways.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Okami is its beautiful artwork. The game’s cel-shaded graphics highlight the vibrant colors filling the screen, and the thick black outlines around the characters and other objects in the environment give the game a cartoony look. The influence of Japanese culture and art is everywhere, from the pagoda style buildings, to the cherry blossom trees that dot the landscape, to the interesting use of Japanese calligraphy in the gameplay (which I’ll talk more about in a moment). Putting it all together, it’s a treat for the eyes, and it holds up well despite originally being made over a decade ago.
Not only does the artwork translate well over the years, but the gameplay does, too (though not quite flawlessly). You spend most of your time roaming through the game world, solving puzzles and engaging in brief skirmishes against monsters. The controls are smooth and responsive, and the puzzles prove to be simple, yet still quirky and satisfying. Combat gets a bit repetitive at times, though; new weapons can be equipped to mix up the gameplay, but I have yet to see how much of an impact that will have in the long run. The lack of an autosave system, while hardly a dealbreaker, does also betray this game’s age.
Probably the most interesting aspect of gameplay is the paintbrush that you can use to alter the game world. At any point you can hold down a button that pauses the action and allows you to draw on things in the environment with your paintbrush; through the course of the game you unlock new ways that your brush can affect the world, such as damaging enemies, restoring cursed trees, and accessing new areas. It’s an integral part of gameplay, and easily the most unique and memorable aspect of the game so far.
All things considered, these first few hours with the game have been quite fun; the colorful artwork, slick controls, and the unique ways it incorporates Japanese culture have rightfully made this game a cult classic, one that holds up fairly well over the years. It’s awesome that a game like this now has a chance to find new audiences (like me) on new consoles.