Okamiden Review «

The greatest praise and the greatest condemnation you can heap on Okamiden is that it’s the best non-Nintendo Zelda game on DS. In its strongest moments, the story is engrossing, the art style painterly, and boss fights diabolical. At the same time, it’s hard to create an opinion of it that doesn’t compare it to Nintendo’s own adventure franchise. Still, in the broad strokes, Okamiden is almost masterfully done, but the little details still need some work.
Set nine months after the sun god Amaterasu returns to the heavens following the events of Okami, the world is once again falling into darkness. The titular wolf’s powers are transferred to a white puppy named Chibiterasu, and the child of the last game’s human hero comes along to aid you in cleansing the land. The last game’s hero didn’t actually have a son nine months ago, but that’s just one of the many small mysteries you solve along the way.

Click the image above to check out all Okamiden screens.
The smaller scale and younger cast never make the game feel like a dumbed-down or kid-friendly version of the original, though. Instead, Okamiden is streamlined and faster-paced in the very best ways. You explore an overworld strikingly similar to the one left behind in Okami, and even most of the upgrades, weapons, and powers you earn are unchanged. But while Okami could take 30-40 hours to complete, Okamiden easily cuts that in half. You still have a world full of quirky characters and fun minigames and sidequests, but the game takes a lot less time in letting you experience the interesting parts.

The game’s unique drawing mechanic returns as well; with a tap of R or L, you pull a piece of parchment across the screen and use your Celestial Brush (otherwise known as the stylus) to manipulate the environment using the god-like powers you’ve picked up along the way. A single straight stroke acts like a massive sword strike, while a circle can make flowers (and some enemies) burst forth with flowers. Naturally, the DS’s touchscreen and stylus make the moves feel natural and more accurate than Okami’s console iterations. Like before, you can still only use one calligraphy power at a time, but it just feels better in this portable version.

Despite the stylistic disparity, the parallels to The Legend of Zelda, particularly the recent DS releases, are undeniable. In Okamiden, though, the similarities come across as both refinement and homage, rather than lazy copy-pasting. Both the dungeons’ layouts and the requirement that you find a new power in each dungeon not only to beat the boss — but unlock the next section of the world — borrow the theme of Link’s Hyrulian adventures. You only ever directly control Chibiterasu, but like some of the dungeons in Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, you can draw a path on the bottom screen to guide your companion to switches or other hard-to-access areas. The companions change as you explore different dungeons, but generally you face a linear run through the game.

While that helps keep the game’s pace lively, the puzzles you come across are clever but never very difficult. And they don’t build on one another in the same progressive way that the best Zelda dungeons seem to; you simply move from room to room, solving the trick to open the next door until you reach the boss. Each dungeon’s guardian, however, rivals the best of Zelda’s encounters. Massive, screen-filling beasts, Okamiden’s major enemy encounters are carefully constructed and almost always require you to find a specific pattern or secret to even damage them. Like the game’s regular enemies in macro, they require to use your powers smartly and to figure out what you need to do. As an otherwise straightforward adventure, the bosses offer up some satisfying obstacles.

 

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