Anyone who played the original Okami knows exactly why everyone fell so thoroughly in love with the title. An engrossing plot, unique game mechanics, fantastic art design and reasonably challenging gameplay all came together in the 2006 classic that set a bar for creative game design. It was memorable in just about every single way, and though the Wii would eventually try and rekindle some of the passion around the game with a well-intended remake, unstable controls would eventually leave a slight mar on the title's history. Even still, the bar is set high for Okamiden; and though one would imagine that many of the best parts of Okami would be hampered by the adaptation onto a handheld system, fans of the first game may find themselves in for a bit of a treat here. The game is surprisingly fun.
Players take control of Chibiterasu, son/puppy of Okami's Sun Goddess Amaterasu, who has come back to the earth in order to fight off the demons that yet again plague the land. Boasting some of her mother's abilities via the Celestial Brush, players will learn various skills from the first game that can be used to cleanse cursed areas, rejuvenate the realms fallen guardians and solve puzzles. It's all very typical of the adventure/platform gametype, with an extremely strong emphasis on plot; not just revolving around the current events in this game, but also around many of the characters from the prior.
This bouncing back and forth between old characters/areas and new cast members is what Okamiden is all about, using old characters to explain new plot changes or mechanic twists in-game while new characters provide insight into the aspects of the title that make it unique to the DS. Many of the mechanics that were part of the Celestial Brush before (like Bloom) are still intact, and additional features such as controlling partner characters make ink-usage that much more valuable. The downside is it takes a pretty long time for the game to get going, and the less patient players (particularly those without the experience from the first game) may find themselves a little bored with the character reunions that occur. Once those have been completely cleared though, things change for the better.
The controls (outside of the touch based ones) are fairly simple, with attack, jump and evasion all being assigned to their own buttons. Movement is easy to manage, and players shouldn't find themselves hard pressed to aim correctly or evade enemy attacks. It all feels relatively tight on the DS, which is good because it gives players time to focus on the environment around them rather than just which button combos they should be engaging. Okamiden is a pretty visual game, with a lot of things happening at the same time, and though there are times where those visuals can be a little disappointing, it's still nice to be able to take in the entire experience with as little fuss as possible.Okamiden's combat is another aspect of the game that takes a little warming up to, starting with an extremely slow and boring pace that gradually becomes more interesting over time the more abilities are added. What starts out as mashing a single attack eventually becomes tied-in with partner combos, assisted by a decent amount of Celestial Brush moves that are used to sweep aside enemies, stun particularly resilient foes, or simply slash across a group for maximum damage. It adds a lot more to the gameplay over time, which is good because most of the random battles that occur in the game happen in a contained field; effectively ruling out any kind of combat outside of an arena-style fight against multiple opponents. Boss battles are completely different however, generally occurring in a much larger zone, and frequently calling upon the use of more than one mechanic to win the day. Players will find that even starting with the first major boss fight, multitasking is an absolute must. It's not particularly hard to do, but it gives players something to look forward to down the line in between the more monotonous random battles.
Partners add another interesting element to the gameplay, ranging from in-combat allies that will toss out various attacks to out-of-combat puzzle solving compatriots. Players will use both Chibiterasu and his partner often at the same time, avoiding enemies while attempting to push buttons, cut down blocks, and just generally solve puzzles. The entire concept has a not-quite-Zelda feel to it, as many puzzles will require players to remember all of the skills they've learned to complete a particular section of the game. Younger gamers should find the experience pretty engaging, as completing a particular puzzle generally forwards the story as well, which is pretty rewarding on its own.
Sadly, while the gameplay in Okamiden can hold its own fairly well the most memorable part of Okami, its stylistic graphics, falls pretty short on the DS. This isn't to say the game isn't good looking, because it certainly does look nice, but technical errors sprinkled throughout the game diminish the feel. Cutscenes range from extremely crisp looking to terribly shoddy and rushed. It's a shame, because even on a handheld one would expect a certain level of consistent quality. Likewise the sound in-game doesn't particularly stand out either, and I personally found the use of Charlie Brown-esque 'wah wah' sounds instead of talking (or any other noise) to be quite annoying.
As a sequel Okamiden does shine quite nicely, bringing together the best of the last game forward onto a platform that really does handle the main focus of puzzle solving and combat (the Celestial Brush) very well. Having the stylus on hand for just about every single puzzle can be a bit bothersome, but Okamiden always gives players a genuine purpose for using it which is both rewarding and refreshing. Outside of the story though, the sequel really does fall short on a few fronts, most notably the technical aspects which were so thoroughly praised on the PS2 version. Perhaps on any other title it would be easier to give some leniency, but with such problems being extremely inconsistent it's hard to say if it's the developers fault or simply a shortcoming from using the DS. Either way Okamiden is a competent title, but it should be a lot more than competent.