Okami Finds a New Gallery on Wii

April 28, 2008


It’s been nearly two years since Clover Studio’s swan song, Okami, wasreleased on the PlayStation 2. Hailed for its unique one-of-a-kind artdirection, expansive storyline, and thought-provoking paint brushmechanic, it received more than its share of acclaim. Unfortunately,this didn’t translate into sales, but through the use of the Wii’sversatile remote this living piece of art has found a new gallery.

The story that unfolds in Okami is one of beauty, and travesty. Tuggingat your emotions, Okami’s living tapestry is like an independentpopcorn flick. A legendary eight-headed monster known as Orochi--feared for its temper and strong distaste for mother nature--wasdefeated at the paws of a legendary white wolf over 100 years ago.

But history has a nasty way of repeating itself. Fast forward to thepresent, and a dim-witted fool mistakenly awakens the once dormantbeast—allowing it to wreak havoc across the sacred land. Once again thewhite wolf must take on Orochi through dark and desolatelocations—using its healing powers to revive the land. The text-heavyplot leans towards a PG-13 feel, yet it manages to remain comical, andthought-provoking.

Allow us to state the obvious: Okami shares a lot of properties withNintendo’s Zelda series. But is that necessarily a bad thing?Abundantly rich in mountainous terrain, the overworld serves as thebase for exploration, where you’ll find yourself completing numeroustasks--either assigned to you by villagers, or Okami’s version ofZelda’s Navi, Issun. Tasks include talking with key characters,retrieving objects, or using newfound powers to open previously lockedpathways. Your time is also equally divided into dungeon exploration,where light puzzle solving is needed to advance from room to room.Finally, each dungeon features a menacing boss you’ll face-off against,where strategy plays a pretty important role.

Okami’s most unique design facet, however, lies within its fabledcelestial paintbrush technique. Simply pressing down on the B buttoncauses the on-screen action to freeze, promptly washing away all colorand instead replacing the screen with a nice sepia tone. Once you’veacquired the new abilities, this is where you physically “paint” shapesusing the Wii remote to alter the surrounding environment to yourbenefit.

Celestial brush techniques such as bloom, vine, or lilly pad provideways to reach previously unobtainable areas. Other paintbrushtechniques include the power slash and cherry bomb; two powerfulattacks that serve a grand purpose in combat. In all, Okami features 13separate brush techniques.

The combat system--a hefty chunk of what Okami offers--shares littlecommon ground with Zelda. This is due to a far-less free roamingenvironment. Enemies in the overworld often appear as floating curses,and will engage you if you get too close. This immediately enacts anenclosed circular area, devoid of anything other than you and yourenemies. Escape is not an option so you must kill baddies by eitherjostling the Wii-mote for your regular attack, use an offensivecelestial brush techniques, or both.

Okami is strictly a single-player game, with no added modes or bonusesfrom the PS2 original. Even so, it’s quite a lengthy quest and no onewill complain that they didn’t get their money’s worth.

Those who have played through Twilight Princess will find noticeablesimilarities between wolf Link and Amaterasu, particularly in theirmovements. Jumping and running feels second nature, and never burdensthe player when exploring the world. By waggling the Wii’s remote, youcontrol Amaterasu’s primary attack; which is used for everything frombattling to breaking treasure chests and obtaining new items.

Ironically, the Wii’s versatile remote, while fine for your primaryattack, is not the best place for Okami’s celestial paintbrushtechniques. Simple procedures, such as drawing a straight line for thepower slash technique, requires multiple tries due to unfairinconsistencies. The learning curve can feel pretty steep at times, andwill have you cursing out loud when, for example, particularstory-driven segments require a steady hand to draw multiple celestialbrush circles during an interactive cutscene. These control issuesdon’t overly burden the experience found in Okami, since you do havethe ability to try, try again. But the paintbrush control issues willcertainly make you wish the game was a little more lenient when it cameto drawing simple shapes. After all, this isn’t art class.

If there’s one area where Okami shines it’s in the presentation. Thevibrant worlds, mixed with the water-color style, and calligraphy makefor a majestic appearance. The Wii adds a few noticeable touches notpreviously found on the PS2 iteration, most notably widescreen supportand 480P output. These little quirks make the games’ calligraphyart-style stand out more vividly than before. However, those with keeneyesight will notice that the PS2 version retains more of a ‘papery’effect than the Wii, but not by much. This is directly related to thevibrant colors found on the wii, as opposed to a more washed-out lookon the PS2.

The Wii version also features the convenience of being able to skipover every cutscene, even the 20-plus minute opening story segment.This might not sound like an important new feature, but those who’veread through the hundredth un-skippable conversation on the PS2 will nodoubt appreciate it.

By re-releasing Okami on the Wii, Capcom and Clover Studio have onceagain proven that this is a very special game, and one that deservesthe attention of anyone who appreciates video games as art, has anaffinity for action/adventure titles, or simply wants to sink into agreat game. The Wii controls aren’t perfect for celestial paintbrushtechniques, but they certainly don’t detract from the overallexperience. With widescreen support, and improved visual fidelity,you’ll find very little to complain about.