Monday, April 16, 2012
A Look at Okami for Nintendo Wii
As part of my ongoing quest to find and play as many of the top-notch Wii games as I can before the Wii cedes its place as Nintendo's primary home console to the Wii U, I just finished playing Okami. Okami itself has had a unique history: It was originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2006, and then it was released for the Wii in 2008 with a new control scheme to fit the Wii's motion controllers.
Even though it began as a game for a different console, Okami is one of the best games that Wii has to offer. It effectively utilizes the Wii's motion controls, it looks gorgeous, the game play is challenging but not impossible, and its central story is genuinely epic in scope. Read on for my complete review.
Okami tells the tale of Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess who appears during the classical era of Japan in the form of a white wolf to vanquish a horde of demons that has seized control of the country. During her adventure, Amaterasu finds a selection of powerful sacred weaponry, meets a huge cast of characters, and learns a variety of ink strokes that represent divine powers, powers she can unleash with her "Celestial Brush".
My plot summary doesn't do Okami justice--the game's story is episodic in nature, and its plot is divided into several episodes. Many of the characters and locations have their own subplots that weave into the game's larger story. Even though the game doesn't take itself too seriously and maintains a goofy sense of humor throughout the story, its nuanced usage of Japanese myths, legends, folklore and geography provide a rich and engrossing gaming experience.
Complementing its usage of classical Japanese culture is the game's visual style, which looks like an animated combination of watercolor and Japanese ink painting. Such a visual style allows for an ethereal combination of 2D and 3D features and a wide variety of colors and patterns. Part of Amaterasu's mission is to restore the natural beauty to areas of Japan that have been rendered barren by demonic curses. Whenever Amaterasu succeeds in this task, the landscape erupts in a flood of bright colors that sweeps across the ground to sprout blooming flowers and blossoming trees. Likewise, there are several scenes in the game where storm clouds of varying colors, shapes and shades swirl overhead in anticipation of a battle; this layered animation provides a kaleidoscopic background that's breathtaking to watch.
What makes Okami a great game for the Wii is how it incorporates the Wii's motion controllers into the action without relying on the notoriously vague "Wii waggle". During the game, you use the Wiimote as Amaterasu's Celestial Brush, which can invoke a wide variety of divine powers. By "drawing" certain shapes on the screen, you can summon a powerful gust of wind, slow down time, prompt the blossoming of trees and seeds, and even cause the sun or the moon to appear. You unlock new powers and their respective brush strokes as you progress through the game, and these powers will help you defeat the most fearsome demons and solve the more difficult puzzles. The Wii tracks both what you draw and how you draw it, so it does take some level of skill to ensure that your drawing style can get you the results you need.
Let me be clear: Okami is a long game. There are a few points where the game could end, but then it opens up another chapter for you to complete. It took me over 40 hours to finish the game and even though I'm glad I completed it, it's something that gamers should keep in mind before picking up a copy for their own collections. It also helps to have a walkthrough guide available, because there are points in the game where it isn't overtly clear as to what you need to do or where you need to go next. In other instances, you might figure out what you have to do in one area but the game won't let you do it until you complete certain tasks in another area first. Furthermore, Okami is filled with dozens of side missions, but only a handful are required to complete the game; having a walkthrough guide handy will help you tell the difference between what is necessary and what is optional.
Okami is one of the best and most rewarding story-based adventure games for the Wii. The story has so many characters, subplots and mythic beasts that finishing it was almost like finishing a novel; that feeling alone makes Okami a rarity among video games, and an important reason to give it a chance while copies are still available.