Okamiden Proves the Stylus is Mightier Than the Remote (Or Controller)S

Okamiden manages to walk the fine line between artistic and interesting, delivering a portable gaming experience that is a pleasure to watch and play.

I spent about a half hour with the localized version of the DS title last week, settling down into a chair to tap my way through a small section of gameplay.

In Okamiden players take on the role of Chibiterasu, the wolf cub of Okami's Amatersau. Throughout the section I played through, Chibiterasu had sidekick Kuni, the son of the original game's Susano, riding on his back.

I used the DS' directional pad to guide Chibiterasu around the world from a distant third-person perspective shown on the top screen. That top view of the gameplay was almost completely unobstructed with only a few icons littering the bottom of the screen. Little icons pop up in the right bottom corner of the screen when your partner dismounts Chibiterasu, showing the sidekicks life. The bottom left displays another life gauge for the wolf cub and a third set of icons showing how much ink you have left to use with the celestial brush.

As with Okami, the ability to use celestial brush strokes to interact with the gaming world is a big part of Okamiden. A player can tap either of the DS' shoulder buttons to turn the brush on or off.

The bottom, touch screen, is used to show a full screen map and four arrows which can be used to change the viewpoint of the camera. There's also a menu button you can tap.

While brush strokes can be used to attack enemies, mend broken bridges, slice rocks or cause trees to bloom, the game also features plenty of button pressing. Buttons are used to mount and dismount Chibiterasu, to jump, to investigate items and to attack. During battles you can also use a button to dodge attacks.

My time with the game involved quite a bit of exploration, running around with Kuni on Chibiterasu's back. Occasionally, I did have to kick Kuni off of the wolf cub's back, guiding him across weak bridges or around obstacles by drawing a line on the screen with my stylus to show where he should go. In practice, this mechanic feels a lot like Link's ability to guide an armored Phantom along a stylus-drawn line in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, but that's where any similarity between the two games begins and ends.

I was often tapping the shoulder buttons while playing Okamiden to use my celestial brush.

When you tap the button, the world changes to look like it's something drawn on parchment paper, and you can doodle on the screen with your stylus. Swiping the stylus across a line of rocks and then tapping the shoulder buttons again will cut the stones in half where you drew. Drawing circles around some Cherry Blossom trees causes them to bloom. Drawing in the missing pieces of a dilapidated bridge, repairs the bridge.

Later, I found myself in a cave facing an ancient and damaged painting, with the help of my brush I was able to complete the painting and unlock a secret room.

There were also enemies who, once stunned, had to be finished off with swipes of the brush.

This hopping between worlds, a major game mechanic in Okami, feels much more natural when played on a device you hold in your hand like a book. It also helps that the brush you use is the pencil-like stylus. The end result is a much more natural experience than was found with the original PS2 title or the Wii port of that game.

And Okamiden isn't just about exploring this interesting painting game mechnics, it also, I am told, features a robust plot written by Yukinori Kitajima, who also wrote the story for Japanese game Shibuya 428.

While I wasn't really able to see any of the game's plot, Okamiden producer Motohide Eshiro says that it's "really good."

"He has crafted a really good, heart-warming tale for us about family ties and friendships," Eshiro said.

Okamiden is due out later this year in Japan and everywhere else next year.