Okami

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.

OkamiGranted, comparisons with Link’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 – which is Ammy’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 Ammy’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 doesn’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 it’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 Ammy’s back, but you can also use your art skills and perform air combos. At the end of each battle you’re ranked for speed and power, and receive an ink boost. Any money acquired can be spent on temporary special powers.

If you didn’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 it’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 you’ll often find something you missed on your first run through, or a use for a recently unlocked skill.

Calling this the PlayStation 2’s answer to Zelda isn’t quite right. It’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 3’s launch line-up for the tedious snore-fest it is.

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