In 2004 we heard of the DS, a video game system with a stylus. Many of us imagined, justifiably, video games we could love that would somehow involve drawing. Six years later, how many DS games does that describe?
I recently played a demo of the game on a DS in New York City — same demo my boss Brian Crecente played before me in Hawaii — and it is a game I could love. It also somehow involves drawing.
I played through the original Okami on a PlayStation 2 in 2006 and wondered, like many, why this adventure of a godly wolf was not on the DS. Capcom's Okami game put you in control of Amaterasu, the wolf hero, but also on the grip of a celestial brush. The player's inky strokes could encircle a cherry blossom tree to make it bloom or slice the top half of an anti-Ameratsu enemy apart from the bottom.
As Crecente described in his preview, Okamiden brings that core Okami gameplay to the DS. The demo of the game impresses, showing that a DS directional pad, like a PS2 analog stick, is good for moving a wolf. Buttons are still fine for jumps and attacks. And yes, of course, a stylus makes the best celestial brush. During my time with the demo I had the new game's hero, Chibiterasu, run through some lovely cel-shaded training grounds, learning some basic slashing and repairing brush powers.
I also experienced the sequel's new element: riders for our wolf. In the demo, only the sword-wielding Kuni was available. Kuni could get off my wolf and be sent, using brush-drawn paths to activate switches on the far side of fragile bridges. Other riders, I was told, will have other powers.
Your ink is still finite in this game. Your fights with enemies still capture you both in ringed arenas, inside of which your battle performance will be graded. Brushstrokes are still recommended during combat; some of them are essential for finding an enemy's weakness. And there are animals, lots of them, because, like the first, this game is a lavish visit to an old cartoon-stylized world where everything looks ink-drawn, hand-colored and inhabited with the presence and spirit of Japanese animal gods.
The experience of Okamiden, in the demo, is as delightful as the original Okami game was at first blush. Beyond the demo, there appears to be a world of characters with whom to talk as well as plenty of land to explore. What I saw looked great, controlled well and managed to reproduce the fundamental elements of the PS2 and Wii's Okami successfully on Nintendo's DS handheld. The gameplay brush is finally in my hand, as I always thought it should be. This is the kind of game made for the DS. This is the kind of game for which I thought the DS was made. I hoped for games like this. It's nice, years later, to see one of the few ones that may match my 2004 hopes.
Okamiden will be out from Capcom in Japan late this year; coming to North America in 2011.