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Review: Ōkamiden for Nintendo DS

Okamiden title
Okamiden title

Okamiden-titleŌkami was released in 2006 for a massively popular but aging console. It garnered glowing reviews, but was overlooked by the public, lost in the hype for the console’s successor. Hitting the DS exactly one week before the 3DS launch, will its sequel repeat the inglorious trick?

For those who missed Ōkami on PlayStation 2 (it was later ported to Wii, but didn’t fare much better), a quick recap. Basically Capcom’s answer to The Legend of Zelda, it drew on Japanese mythology to cast you as sun goddess Amaterasu, reincarnated as a wolf. The gameplay was a straight clone of Zelda – wandering vast overworlds before descending into dungeons to battle bosses and learn new abilities – with one addition: the Celestial Brush. The game was lushly presented in the sumi-e style of delicate watercolours that defines classical Japanese art, and the Brush took the game’s hand-drawn style into the gameplay by letting you pause the game at any time to draw over the top of events. A circle in the sky would summon the sun, a horizontal slash would cleave boulders and harm enemies, a crude cartoon bomb would spawn a real bomb, and so on.

Ōkamiden is a direct sequel, set nine months after the original in many of the same locations, with most of the same cast. The key difference is that you’re now playing as Amaterasu’s pup, Chibiterasu, and only being a little fella he can’t match up to his mum in terms of power. So you get a series of partners, each with their own abilities, who ride on Chibi’s back. You can get them to dismount and then send them off on tasks with stylus strokes – yes, it’s another Zelda crib, as this system is near identical to that series’ last DS outing, Spirit Tracks.

Incidentally, don’t worry if you haven’t played the first game. While certain nods will go over your head, Ōkamiden is largely open and welcoming to newcomers to the series. If you have played Ōkami, however, you’ll know how good it is – and you’ll be delighted to hear that Ōkamiden lives up to its illustrious forefather.

It’s a remarkable technical achievement, really. Ōkami was huge and gorgeous, and made by a company that doesn’t exist any more (Clover Studios, an internal Capcom team that dissolved not long after Ōkami’s release before being reborn as Bayonetta/Vanquish devs Platinum Games). We weren’t really expecting Ōkamiden to be anywhere near that level – even Nintendo haven’t done a fully 3D Zelda on the DS, opting for a top-down style for Link’s two outings on the hardware – and yet Capcom have, despite not having most of the original coders to work with, produced a fully-fledged 3D epic on seven-year-old hardware.

It’s certainly not as big or as long as the first game, but nearly everything is in there, with only a few alterations (various miniquests, and the ability to choose how to level up your player – now, all stat-increasing is done automatically). It looks fantastic – much better in motion than in screenshots – and the lavish soundtrack is nearly indistinguishable from the first game, despite only having the DS’s tiny speakers to pipe through.

There are a couple of technical quibbles – the camera control is limited, which can be irritating, and locations are now discreetly split into lots of smaller areas linked by blue portals, which means that there are a lot of loading pauses. They’re only a few seconds each, but some areas have lots of portals in a small space, meaning it’s a hassle to navigate. It’s churlish to complain, though, since this piece of programming has given the title more graphical beauty than we had any right to really expect.

In short, Ōkamiden is a glorious nearly-last fling for the trusty old DS. If you’ve played the original or have any sort of love for Zelda (and if not, what’s wrong with you?), then consider this an essential.