Bark at the sun
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Okami is an absolute classic game. First released just over a decade ago for Sony’s Playstation 2 to rave reviews and multiple awards, it sadly failed to find an initial audience and poor sales contributed to the closure of its original developer, the seminal Clover Studio. Regardless of this perceived failure, however, publishers Capcom recognised the games strong cult status and kept its flame alive, firstly with a port to Nintendo’s Wii in 2008, followed by an HD remaster on PS3 in 2012 and a 2017 reissue on PS4, XBox One and PC (our Deborah took a look at that version right here!). That brings us to 2018 and the eagerly awaited release for Nintendo’s Switch.
For those of you who have somehow been stuck in a cave for the last 12 years, Okami is an action RPG in the Zelda mould. Players control the sun deity Amateratsu, a white wolf who fights alongside the warrior bug Issu to free the land of Nippon from a demonic evil. Riffing off ancient Japanese legends, the game is striking for its sumi-e art style, designed to look like old Japanese paintings. This plays into the games signature mechanic, the Celestial Brush.
Holding down the right bumper will pause the on screen action and bring up a large paintbrush. The player can use this to paint different patterns on the screen to make use of Amateratsu’s godlike powers; rebuild bridges, slice enemies, call forth the sun – the usual jazz that god’s can do. Ammy (as Issu calls her) can pick up new powers by finding constellations of other gods who will impart their celestial knowledge onto her. These powers not only help you adventure, they are essential to solving some of the puzzles in your way. The Switch really makes the brush mechanic click.
As early as the Wii port, the brush had motion controls tied to it. Initially controlled rather stiffly with the analogue sticks on the PS2 release, motion controls genuinely felt like the best way to experience Okami and this new port only adds to that. The smooth gyroscopes in the Joy-Con’s makes the experience feel second nature, but it doesn’t stop there. This technically isn’t the first time that Okami has been portable; in 2010 Capcom released a smaller scale sequel, Okamiden, to Nintendo’s DS system. As well as being portable, Okamiden allowed players to use the DS’s touchscreen to draw symbols with the Celestial Brush. This feature makes a welcome return on Switch thanks to the systems touchscreen when playing in portable mode and, honestly, it’s one of the best ways to play this game. Being able to precisely wield the brush brings a fluidity to the action that I’ve not felt in any of the previous iterations, including the motion controlled Wii. Add in some brilliant HD rumble and the Switch version feels pretty much like the definitive edition!
Sure, it doesn’t have the 4K presentations of the PS4, XBox One and PC versions, but it shares their locked 30fps, and the bright visuals still pop even at 1080p with 720p for handheld mode. It’s that handheld mode that truly sells Okami on Switch, however. Make no mistake; this is a huge game. My first playthrough on PS2 clocked at roughly 50 hours and this was back when I had all the time in the world to game! Being portable means being able to play in easy to digest sessions with the ability to suspend the game in the middle of the action and come back whenever is convenient, rather than being beholden to save points. It makes the game feel fresh and provides more than a desire to revisit it once more.
That’s not to say there are some things that haven’t aged so well – Okami’s mid 2000’s roots show in some odd PS2 style motion blur and spotty texture implementation which is thankfully hidden by the stylised graphics, as well as a camera that just won’t stay where you put it (seriously, mid 2000’s game designers – why do you have to make the camera snap back all the damn time!)
But these are minor quibbles, far from game breakers. Okami is still a game that is stunningly beautiful, wistfully whimsical and, in some places, downright funny. It’s got a ridiculous amount of bang for your buck which, on the Switch, isn’t actually that much. The game is an absolute steal at its 15.99 price tag, although collectors may be disappointed to hear that the physical cartridge won’t be seeing a release outside of Japan. Regardless, Okami is an absolutely essential purchase for all Switch owners.
One of the all time greats gets the portable treatment in this pitch perfect port. Motion and touch controls, combined with effective HD rumble create the definitive experience for this classic.