You’d think we’d get bored of playing a game that’s already been released in four different ways before, but Okami is still one of the best adventure games you can hope to play. From its astonishing art direction, inspired by traditional Japanese Sumi-e art, to its incredible folk-inspired score, Okami remains timeless and ageless thanks to brave style choices and simple gameplay beats.
The game – for those of you that don’t know it – has you playing as the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, waking from a 100-year slumber to find a world that’s fallen victim to a terrible curse. Ancient Japan – Nippon – has been turned into a land of darkness, all colour and life drained from the country.
Howl Be Back
As Amaterasu, embodied in the body of a white wolf, you’re tasked with breathing life back into Nippon – reanimating the country with blooms and water and spirit and life. Guided only by the wandering artist Issun, your task starts off looking incredibly imposing but you quickly realise that, no, this isn’t a journey to be intimidated by… it’s one to cherish.
The Switch version is pretty much a definitive take on the HD version of the game that released last year on PS4 and Xbox One – including new mechanics and ideas that are unique to Nintendo’s handheld. One of the key mechanics in the game is the Celestial Brush: a tool that lets you interact with the world and create new items by drawing them in ink.
Okami HD on Switch lets you use the touchscreen to manipulate the Celestial Brush, and it’s absolutely a match made in heaven (excuse the pun). Hitting the shoulder button and flicking your finger over the screen to cut enemies in battle has its own sort of visceral pleasure, as does smearing a sun into existence over a blooming field with your thumb.
The added level of interactivity helps really draw you into the game, helping you feel more in tune with Ammy, with Nippon and with the very world you’re attempting to bring back to life. As was possibly the initial intent when the game was made, this newly added motion mechanic makes you feel like you – the player – is actually resurrecting the land, fending off demons with your own nimble digits. There’s something soulful in that, and it really suits Okami’s wholesome vibe.
Paint It Black
You’re introduced to the Celestial Brush and its uses at the very start of the game, where Issun asks you to paint in a river of stars so you can cross and escape your astral resting place. You see Ammy and Issun create a river out of nothingness, and you realise the power of the brush you’ve been given… if that’s the level of power you have at the start of the game, can you imagine where you’ll be by the end?!
It’s a wonderful introduction to what Amaterasu can do – and it makes you feel like an actual, honest-to-God, well, God. As you push through the game and uncover more techniques you can use with the Celestial Brush, you start to realise just how deep a project Okami must have been to develop: every brush technique – from making the sun appear to creating little cherry bombs – can be used on enemies and humans alike, and there’s genuinely a different reaction each time you try something new.
As per its painterly inspiration, Okami is a game that rewards ingenuity and creativity, and even though you’ll end up having incredibly easy fights with various demons that appear, it feels like the focus of this title is more on exploration and creation… not destruction. Combat, for what it is, is entertaining, and a very light RPG element rewards you for doing well, but violent encounters are a distraction in Okami… the bulk of the game’s appeal lies elsewhere.
It’s been argued before that Okami’s start is slow – but we disagree. There’s a lot of scene to set in the afflicted Nippon, and if you’re a quick reader you can blitz through some of the longer exposition dumps quite quickly. Once you’re past the first zone, the game starts to show its true colours (again, sorry about the pun): blooms, fields of grass, sakura blossoms, azure lakes, cascading waterfalls… the game takes you through some amazing environments, and it feels like you’re rewarded in some way for every inch of the game you explore.
Wolf It Down
Towards the latter third of the title, you can start to feel some of the bloat creep in – retextured levels, repeated assets and recurring enemies shunt the pace a little. Combined with the heavier reliance on combat in this chunk of the game, that initial joyful sense of momentum may start to wane. Persevere, though, and you’re rewarded with a finale that empowers, surprises and – dare we say – might even move you.
You can easily get about 60 hours out of Okami if you’re on the adventurous side – in sniffing out all the nooks and crannies, visiting all the dojos, finding all the collectibles, bringing everything back to life, Okami HD offers a robust package, and one that only rarely stumbles from its incredible, cantering pace.
Feel Good Ink
It’s been said that Okami is the best Zelda game never made. You can see why: the game hits upon all the hallmarks of the best Zelda titles – the world has a distinct, enrapturing personality, the accumulated techniques you acquire make you feel steadily more powerful, the bosses and threats have this uneasy sense of danger… Hideki Kamiya and the team at Clover managed to communicate their vision for a friendly, wholesome adventure game perfectly.
The Switch version of Okami HD – with its portability, its motion controls, its touchscreen paintbrush and its compact charm – is hands own the definitive version of Okami. If you’ve never played it before, we’re happy to go as far as saying this is an essential purchase for your system. It’s a timeless classic, and every Nintendo fan needs to play it – because it could give even the best Zelda game a run for its money.