Sequels to large console games popping up on portable systems is a surprising development in recent years, such as Dragon Quest IX on the DS, and the next Valkyria Chronicles on the PSP. Capcom is no straggler to trends, and in this case the publisher has its own well-loved series coming to the DS, Okami. Tooted as a direct sequel to the original Okami on PS2 and Wii, Okamiden for the DS showed well at this past E3, and of course Gaming Union got some much wanted hands-on time with the game.
Okamiden actually doesn't star the celestial wolf Amaterasu (often called Ami), the lead character from the original. This time around the celestial wolf pup Chibiterasu "“ Chibi for short "“ takes the leading roll, alongside Kuni, the son of the original's Susano. Our time with Okamiden saw us run through both a tutorial with Chibi and Kuni, and a lengthy demo with the duo. The DS is a perfect match for the series as anyone familiar with Okami would assume. The key gameplay mechanic to the game is the celestial brush, where Chibi can turn the player's screen into a canvas, where varies brush strokes with the DS stylus translate to a range of attacks, actions, and magic. While using the Wii Remote was a step up from the PS2's analog sticks, using the Stylus for the celestial brush trumps them all.
How does this iteration of the Okami series stack up? Aside from the excellent celestial brush, much of the spirit of the original continues in Okamiden. While the original developer of Okami is no more, Capcom's done a good job to keep the game's distinct personality alive. Characters are witty and fun, while still being welcoming for kids and mature gamers alike. The game however is mostly in a top-down perspective, which unfortunately seems to limit most puzzles and environments to more of a 2D gameplay feel, with 3D graphics.
If you've grown up with top-down action adventure games, much of the feel of Okamiden will seem quite familiar. What the game does in this perspective is still fun and thoughtful, however the full three dimensional feel to gameplay that the original had isn't here. No less, Chibi and Kuni work together in a co-operative way, both in the control of the player. Kuni for the most part rides on Chibi's back as Chibi takes care of fighting and using the celestial brush, but at times Kuni dismounts Chibi to help out with puzzles. For example, together the two are kind of heavy, so when faced with a crumbling bridge, Kuni is sent across with the use of the celestial brush as he's the lighter of the two. Kuni will trigger a switch that allows Chibi to progress, and from our demo that was the extent of Kuni's use, however he likely helps in other ways further into the game.
Battles take the game from a top-down perspective to the third-person perspective players will remember from the original. A combination of hammering the attack button and using the celestial brush to do power slashes makes for fun battles, however the DS does draw one failing in this sense. As players uses the d-pad and face buttons to battle, the camera is purely out of the player's control. This makes for enemies running off screen very frequently, seemingly turning the battle into a game of chasing Chibi's tail. Battles are still manageable no less, despite the annoyance of the camera.
Visually, the game looks on-par with the best the DS has seen to date. The attention to detail in the game's animation is a great, a hallmark that was key to the original's charm, as well as the quality music present. Cutscenes are as frequent as in the original, with the only quality difference we can think of being the PS2 and Wii graphics compare to the those of the DS.
While insight into the story of the game was lacking from the demo, assuming the game delivers on that front, Okamiden looks to be a full fledged sequel to the original Okami. We're happy to see it, and will definitely be keeping our eyes out for the game leading up to its 2011 release.