When Capcom sent out review copies of Killer 7, they included a memo asking critics to be patient with it and not pass judgement on its cel-shaded psychosis alone. Nothing of the sort came with Okami, which suggests that the idea of playing as a wolf charged with the responsibility of restoring colour to a tainted world is no longer strange now that Twilight Princess has been released.
Granted, comparisons with Linkâ€™s latest are easy to make, and not just because of the wolf factor. It breaks the player in gently with a short opening sequence cunningly disguised as a tutorial, before moving onto a village where the locals all require a hand with something or have advice to offer. Amaterasu – Ammy for short – is joined by Issun, a tiny bug with a talent for art resembling Minda. Issun not only provides comic relief, but points out items of interest, keeps a log of active quests, and wants to learn the thirteen magical paint strokes from the nature Gods â€“ which is Ammyâ€™s ultimate goal.
The genius of Okami comes in several strokes (pun intended); the boldest (and again) is being able to turn the screen into a static 2D image that can then be doodled on – with Ammyâ€™s tail, no less. Drawing a circle in the sky will turn night to day, trees can be made to blossom by scribbling on their bare branches – often removing curses from the surrounding area – and during combat etching a straight line will cut enemies in two or destroy their weapons. It doesnâ€™t work faultlessly, but certainly as well as it could have with just an analogue stick to twiddle.
Combat is the most repetitive aspect, although it is quite satisfying, and itâ€™s possible to avoid most battles. Like an RPG, when you run into an enemy marker or walk through a devil gate, the action is transported to an oval arena. The main weapon of choice is a spinning disc on Ammyâ€™s back, but you can also use your art skills and perform air combos. At the end of each battle youâ€™re ranked for speed and power, and receive an ink boost. Any money acquired can be spent on temporary special powers.
If you didnâ€™t know already, it looks phenomenal – right up there with Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, God of War and the Jak and Ratchet games are far as PlayStation 2 visuals go. The flowers that appear behind Ammy as she runs are particularly striking, and the short cut-scenes that occur when returning colour or breaking a curse on an area are imaginative and detailed.
Problems? Not many, really. The characters talk in a garbled tone (think Animal Crossing) which gets annoying quite quickly, and some of the puzzles can be taxing, but never unfairly so. If you ever have to backtrack itâ€™s never a chore, as not only does Ammy speed up over time but the game world has been designed in such a way that youâ€™ll often find something you missed on your first run through, or a use for a recently unlocked skill.
Calling this the PlayStation 2â€™s answer to Zelda isnâ€™t quite right. Itâ€™s actually better than Twilight Princess in many ways, the foremost a higher degree of innovation and creativity. And it really shows up the PlayStation 3â€™s launch line-up for the tedious snore-fest it is.