There are few games as revered and beloved as Clover Studio’s “Okami.” Released in 2006 for Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation 2, it was a critical hit, and quickly became the game you name-dropped to prove your gaming creds.
Despite being a lifelong gamer, I wasn’t one of those cool kids who played it. Sure, I heard it was inventive — beautiful, even — but I simply never got around to playing.
Which is why when I found out that “Okami” was coming to the Nintendo (NTDOY) Switch, I jumped at the chance to review it. “Okami HD” takes the original game and adds in the ability to play on-the-go with the Switch in portable mode; it also throws in touchscreen controls and motion controls with the help of the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers.
What you get is a joyous game that’s a wonderful palate-cleanser for the kind of gritty, first-person shooters that generally dominate the sales charts. It’s not perfect: There are some control issues, and the touchscreen controls are too unforgiving. However, “Okami HD” will certainly live up to your lofty expectations if your experience is anything like mine.
Embracing traditional art
“Okami HD” uses an ink-wash painting style that sets it apart from many other games and incorporates influences from Shintoism and Buddhism. You take on the role of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, in the form of a white wolf.
Your goal is to save all of Nippon (Japan) from a curse that’s overtaken the land, poisoning it and bringing about demons who are tormenting townspeople. To fight off the curse, you have to revive sacred trees scattered across the country, battling those demons and helping anyone you come across, whether it’s a father searching for his lost son, or warrior dogs that just want some treats.
You’ll do battle using a collection of sacred weapons that allow you to bash, whip or shoot at enemies, but it’s never overly violent. In fact, the game’s T for Teens rating is largely because of the fact that some characters drink, while others make somewhat crude jokes. In other words, this isn’t a gorefest. At times it’s downright relaxing to simply run across the game’s colorful landscapes looking for hidden items you may have missed.
The one niggling problem I had was how long the opening cutscenes took to get through. Coupling that with the annoying gibberish characters speak, and I was almost turned off from the start. But after some exposition, I was ready to rock.
The feeling of exploring Nippon as Amaterasu reminded me a good deal of the reason I loved “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” It had an almost calming feeling to it. I never felt rushed, which made exploring less of a risk and more rewarding.
It doesn’t hurt that as Amaterasu, your job is to restore the life to Nippon. Your key tool in completing this task is your Celestial Brush. When activated, the brush turns the game into a kind of paper scroll that you can draw on to impact the world. Drawing a circle around a dying tree, for example, will revive it, while drawing a slash through an enemy will cut them.
There are a variety of ways in which you can use the Celestial Brush including drawing a circle in the sky to bring out the Sun and grow nearby plants. You only have a set amount of ink to paint with, though. When you run out you have to wait for it to automatically refill, leaving you without your godly powers for a brief amount of time.
Controls could be sharper
For a game that was originally released 12 years ago for a system that’s now collected by retro gamers, “Okami” plays incredibly well. Whether in portable mode and using the attached Joy-Con controllers or on my TV with the Switch Pro controller, Amaterasu’s movements were mostly spot-on. I wouldn’t say “Okami’s” controls are as sharp as a modern AAA game like, say, “God of War,” but they’re still solid.
I did, however, notice that when attacking, I had to make doubly sure I was lined up with an enemy, or constantly prepare to dodge, since my hits didn’t interrupt their movements. Using the Celestial Brush with the controller also felt slow at times, especially when drawing something like a bomb. But it was by far the best was way to do so.
I tried using the touchscreen controls to physically draw circles or slashes using my finger, but I found that my movements had to be especially accurate compared to using the standard controls. I’d end up trying to draw a circle around a dying tree to revive it 4 or 5 times just to have the game recognize what I was trying to do. What’s more, you’ll end up holding your Switch with one hand to draw on the screen, which, when playing on a crowded subway, will immediately make you fear that you’re going to drop the console.
The motion controls, meanwhile, are just annoying to deal with. I can understand using touch controls for party games and the like, but for a title like “Okami” doing so takes too much effort. I’d rather spend my time focusing on saving Nippon — not holding out my arm and drawing circles.
Should you get it?
“Okami HD” is a fantastic game that easily met and exceeded my expectations. I remember thinking how gorgeous the title looked while watching one of my best friends play it in college, and that feeling never seems to have left.
At a time when online games can easily eat up hundreds of hours of your time, and single-player titles work harder and harder to simulate the real world, “Okami HD” proves to be the kind of wholesome offering that reminds you why you fell in love with video games in the first place.
What’s hot: The ultimate version of a gaming classic; Beautiful game world; Inventive controls
What’s not: Touchscreen and motion controls feel superfluous
More from Dan: