For those of you who missed it the first time in 2006, or the second when it was ported to the Wii in 2008, or even the third time when it came to PS3 in 2012: Okami HD is an action-adventure RPG drawing from classic Japanese mythology and art.
Remade arty game
Prettier than it was before
I hope less awkward
Why start this article with a haiku? Because the subject pays tribute to traditional Japanese art, and I was implored not to begin with a video of me performing my one-man kabuki theatre show. Yes, PS2 classic and feast for the eyes Okami is again getting the re-release treatment on December 12th, this time in stunning HD and with 4k support on PS4, XBOX ONE and PC. And I for one am ruddy thrilled.
Okami’s gameplay is often compared to that of a traditional Zelda title, in that you will find yourself in towns taking side-quests from wacky characters, delving into monster and puzzle filled dungeons, and using the power-ups you find therein to open up new areas out in the wilderness.
So far so blah, right? So how did Okami win it’s critical acclaim? Well for a start, it does all these things very, very well. The characters you meet are utterly charming, the world is expansive and filled with things to do, and the novelty of the power-ups is one of the core concepts: the celestial paintbrush. Rather than collecting tools, spells, or weapons with which to solve puzzles, Amatertsu (that’s you, a wolf/sun god) discovers new brush techniques, allowing you to pause the game and paint on the screen like a canvas. Boulder blocking progress? Paint a bomb to blow it up. Something out of reach? Paint some squiggly wind lines to blow it down. Lonely? Paint me like one of your French girls to… ok maybe not, but you get the idea. And the lack of me naked wearing the heart of the ocean brings us to my next topic:
‘How can a port improve on such a perfect game?’ you ask me. And I laugh, bitterly. For all its beauty and ambition, Okami had some problems. On the PS2 you had to paint on the screen with the left analogue stick, and the lack of Bob Ross licensed console games might clue you in to the fact that this is less than elegant. I played Okami on the Wii port, which in my opinion handily fixed this problem using the pointer, but unfortunately most Wii developers were committed to including a motion control element even when it lacked all rhyme and reason, leading to more unnecessary invitations to ‘shake it’ than were issued by Andre ‘Ice Cold’ 3000 throughout the entirety of 2003. Combat requires precise timing to initiate combos, making the decision to assign the attack command to the shake input a senseless act of violence against this beautiful game and my poor wrists.
These control issues left previous versions of Okami beautiful and quirky, but clumsy, like a relatable female lead in a 90s chick-flick. I’m not alone in hoping they find a solution that does the other elements of this game justice, and in having some amount of trepidation about how the celestial brush mechanics will be implemented across the various platforms. That aside, I’m pumped that a game that did so much for the ‘games are art’ argument is getting a new lease on life, and for the chance to again immerse myself in this classic’s every masterful brushstroke.