[12 June 2008]
When it was first released for the PS2 almost two years ago, the Clover Studios-developed Okami was quickly celebrated as a cult classic due to the divide between its critical acclaim and its sales figures. Although it unabashedly aped the overall structure of any number of games in The Legend of Zelda series, its rather unique mythology and gorgeous looks made it a favorite among many. Now the game has been rereleased for the Nintendo Wii, a console many felt would serve as a spiritual home for the title. Given that much of the game relies on the mechanics of using a virtual brush to paint on the environment, the Wiimote does seem an ideal fit. For the most part, the translation is extremely satisfying, and is just as wonderful an experience as it was before.
Given its release before The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, it’s interesting to note that Okami, with its wolf protagonist and Celestial Gods, certainly shares strong similarities with the first act of Twilight Princess, in which Link becomes a wolf and must find Light Spirits. Okami’s voice and aesthetics, however, are unique. When the first cel-shaded games began appearing, attempting to emulate cartoons, the look was so different and crisp that it was entrancing. Subsequently, a number of games were released that attempted to cash in on the new technique, sacrificing story and gameplay in the process. Okami’s look is both gorgeous and unique, and yet it doesn’t seem as though it’s likely to be copied part and parcel by other games and become relatively common. The reality is that this represents a rare instance where the look of a game is so inexorably linked to its feel, its narrative, and its culture, that not only does it not make sense for Okami to look any other way, but moreover, it makes no sense for any other game to look like Okami.
Comprised of veterans from Naughty Dog and Blizzard, Ready at Dawn Studios was behind the well-regarded Daxter and God of War: Chains of Olympus, both for the PSP. Given this pedigree, and indeed the pedigrees of the companies from which their talent came, it is no surprise that Okami has been faithfully ported and well implemented on the Wii. Wisely, not too much improvement was attempted, aside from widescreen support and Wii-specific controls. Using the Wiimote as an input mechanism for the Celestial Brush doesn’t seem necessarily better or worse than using the analog stick of a PS2 controller. In some ways it’s more intuitive, which is why it seemed such an obvious idea to begin with. There is a bit of a learning curve, though, and in some instances it seems more difficult to get the game to recognize input than it was in the original version.
While Okami is presented in 480p widescreen on the Wii, one of the most beautiful visual effects did not survive the translation from the PS2. In its original incarnation, not only did everything appear to be drawn with the inky brushstrokes of japanese paintings, but further, the world itself appeared to be a textured canvas on which this painting was occurring. This filter is not present in the Wii incarnation, and though it certainly makes the colors more vibrant than before, the sense that you are playing on parchment is definitely lessened.
Notions of environmentalism and wonder at nature clearly permeate the world of Okami. The repeated sequence of life returning to a previously dead area, with color vivaciously rushing forth to resuscitate the land is consistently profound and gorgeous. As such, although some have criticized the combat in Okami for being relatively easy, it doesn’t seem that battle is really the point of the game. The motion controls which have been added to the combat portions of the Wii version are no improvement on the original, and in some ways are less intuitive. Still, there is so much more here thematically to pay attention to that a changed control scheme doesn’t seem to matter all that much.
An instance of either sloppiness or oversight occurred when it was noticed that the box art for this version of the game used backgrounds that contained the IGN watermark, clearly having come from IGN press of the game. Although it was soon announced that Capcom would send out replacement covers to those that requested them at a special website, as of this writing, less than a month after the program was announced, the replacement offer has been ended.
In any case, Okami is still extraordinary, and its less than stellar sales remain disappointing. It represented the swan song for Clover Studios, though former members of the development house have gone on to found PlatinumGames, which has recently announced a partnership with Sega. Hopefully this will allow them to be able to make another game as creative and affecting as Okami. There are certainly differences between the PS2 and Wii versions of the game, and fans that have played all the way through one version may well have issues with some of the idiosyncrasies of the other. But as far as action-adventure games go, Okami is a deep and wonderful experience on either platform.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/okami-wii-version/