With the Nintendo 3DS hype train barreling into the gaming industry faster than any previous Nintendo handheld, it's somehow fitting that Okamiden quietly stakes its place in the DS library as one of the last titles for the platform. In a way, it's in a very similar place as the underrated Okami - an ill-fated PlayStation 2 game that flew under the radar late in the platform’s life-cycle. But with Amaterasu playing a starring role in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Okami’s revival on the Nintendo Wii, gamers are more aware of the franchise than ever before.
If the original game was an underrated masterpiece, Okamiden is a colorful, ambitious imitation. Although it borrows heavily from the first game and chops down the gameplay for the DS control scheme, the spirit of the franchise is still strong. If anything, the DS stylus feels like a more natural application of the Celestial Brush, although that's really the only thing that Okamiden has over its console progenitor.
Okamiden opens with an abridged version of the plot from Okami. As is typical for Japanese demons, the evil Orochi and Yami won't stay dead and defeated, and their evil influence manages to survive. Although Amaterasu is summoned to fight the good fight once again, the duty of restoring peace, color, and nature to the poisoned land of Nippon actually falls to her son, Chibiterasu, and his companion, Kuni. Okamiden uses several characters and locations from Okami, so don't expect a lot of new things to see aside from the dungeons and boss battles.
Chibiterasu starts out the game underpowered and must acquire stronger abilities by taking on quests and restoring life to Guardian Saplings that have withered throughout the land. Along with that, Chibiterasu also has to track down the children of the Celestial Brush Gods in order to unlock brush abilities, some of which are brand new.
There's a constant progression that keeps Okamiden from ever getting boring, and as you start getting comfortable with the mono-button melee combat, weaving in your Celestial Brush powers actually ends battles rather quickly. It's all familiar territory for gamers who've played Okami, but those new to the story won't get too lost either.
Okamiden isn't terribly original. There's not a lot of variety, and the dungeon puzzles are all too easy to solve. If there's a switch, you'll have to split Chibiterasu and Kuni up to get to it. If there's a crack in a wall, you'll need a fireworks bomb to blow it up. If you need to repair something, you can just trace around the object to fix it. It's very paint-by-the-numbers, but where Okamiden really shines is the boss battles – you’re given no time to sit back and plan things over a cup of tea.
Unfortunately, Okamiden isn't as pretty as Okami, but it’s hard to fault the game for that. If Okami looked like it was lovingly painted with fine brushes on a high-quality canvas, Okamiden seems like it was painstakingly drawn on coloring paper with a pack of crayons. And there's no artful analogy I can make for this, but having all the levels and landscapes chopped up into a billion floating loading screens just kind of sucks.
Much like Chibiterasu, Okamiden faithfully does the job of its predecessor, although it lacks much of the grace and poise that we saw last time. Still, the feel of the franchise is intact, and that's what really matters here. With extra post-game content and plenty of quests to complete before and after the final battle, Okamiden is a solid closing entry in the original DS's history.
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