Partnering with Tearfund

Okami (PS2)

Rated: 12+

Story: The land has been turned to darkness by the ancient monster Orochi. You are the embodiment of the sun god Amaterasu and must restore the natural world. You achieve this by recovering the powers of your celestial brush and using them to do everything from create bombs to make trees bloom. Oh, and I should probably mention you're a wolf... infested by an annoying talking bug... and you get sent on your mission by a tree.

At least it makes a change from being a baldy space marine, I suppose.

Gameplay: Run and jump around from a third-person perspective. Talk to villagers, solve their problems, fight demons, uncover secrets and explore your way through the occasional dungeon. It's just like Zelda except you're a wolf. (Correction for those who've played Twilight Princess: It's just like Zelda except you're a wolf ALL THE TIME). You also have to pause the action frequently to paint with the magic brush in order to create and fix things. The fighting is in real-time (apart from pauses to paint) but takes place in enclosed arenas that spring up when you encounter monsters.

Save System: Save points scattered around the world. This can mean lots of back-tracking to save. Occasionally a mix of boss battles and cut-scenes will mean you're unable to save for more than twenty minutes. Do game designers not have children?

Comments: The first thing that has to be mentioned about Okami is the graphics - it looks like a Japanese water-colour. Initially this is a very impressive departure from the norm. Panoramas are particularly stunning. Up close, however, backdrops are very bland and many areas are pretty featureless. The character models aren't that great either. After awhile the faded hues and murky textures just made me want to clean my TV screen in the hope I could make out a bit more detail.

The painting aspect is another idea that seems great to start with but again doesn't quite work out. The Wii is lumbered with a stack of ported PS2 games with poorly implemented wiimote functionality. Here we have a game that seems designed for the Wii but which is lumbered with the PS2 analogue sticks. What is going on? Making a bomb by drawing a circle with a line coming out of it would be fantastic using the wiimote to just point and paint. It would be like waving a wand. Using an analogue stick is like wrestling with a demented Etch-A-Sketch. Drawing circles of the right size and in the right place is particularly vexing. Trying to do it in one of the against-the-clock sections is infuriating. The painting quickly becomes a real chore.

One of the standard elements of games like this is having to return to areas you've previously explored once you've gained new abilities. These abilities let you unlock new areas and secrets. It's important to try and remember unusual scenery, such as a cracked wall, for a point in time when you have a way of dealing with it. In Okami, however, these 'secrets' are everywhere. You can't move for piles of leaves, flaming chests and glowing cracks. There's no way to remember them all - it's a case of back-tracking everywhere. Again, it becomes a chore. Also, since there are so many of these hiding places, the rewards within are slim. It doesn't seem worth it after not very long.

There are plenty of other niggles as well. Conversations are text only and... the... words... appear... on... the... screen... at... a... very... pace... Sometimes they can be speeded up slightly, other... times... they... can't... And it's not like the dialogue is generally that interesting anyway. Many of the quests are tedious, such as making all the trees in a village bloom. (Back-tracking and drawing circles - excellent!) The fights are quickly repetitive. Any time a puzzle seems in danger of becoming interesting, the annoying bug tells you what to do.

Despite all these problems, Okami isn't awful. It's charming and addictive. The main quest trundles along in nice little chunks, tempting you to see what happens next. If you want something to relax with for an hour or so last thing at night then you could do much worse. Which I suppose is pretty faint praise but sometimes there's a call for the gaming equivalent of Horlicks. Maybe it gets more exciting later on. I don't know. I played Okami for about twelve hours and I doubt I was a third of the way through. I just couldn't be bothered to keep plugging away at it, though. I began to feel that I'd have just as much fun reading a walkthrough and save myself a great deal of time.

I'm going to give it a three because there's not much else like it on PS2 and I know there are a lot of people who think it's great. Personally I would suggest hunting for Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy in the second-hand shelves instead. Psychonauts is another possibility or Kameo on 360 or Twilight Princess on Wii. Or you could just do the sensible thing and go into Cash Converter and buy a second-hand GameCube and The Wind Waker for next to nothing. (If you're really lucky you'll get the bonus disc with Ocarina of Time as well. Result!)

Length: Very long... Very, very long.

Graphics: Sometimes astonishing, sometimes featureless, always unique.

Rating: 3/5

No comments: