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Okamiden Hands On Impressions

Clover Studio's swan song has been given a DS sequel. Does it do the original justice?


Valkyria Chronicles 2 appears to be making the console to portable transition smoothly. So will same hold true for that other big recent shrink job, Okamiden?

My initial impression after a couple of play sessions with the Okamiden Tokyo Game Show demo is that DS owners will be able to look forward to a game deserving of its namesake. The franchise that served as the sendoff for Clover Studio looks and plays great on the DS.

The Okamiden TGS booth.

The Tokyo Game Show demo offered players two sequences: a general tutorial, introducing the basic gameplay, and a more advanced demo that felt like something pulled straight out of the game proper.

My first sampling was of the tutorial -- a series of instructional sequences set in a stage with an Okami-like space background. Even experienced Okami players will want to try this out, as Okamiden does a few things differently from the PS2 original.

Capcom has shared the basics on the game in past Famitsu previews. Here's some of what I noticed during my play test today.

The action in Okamiden takes place mostly on the top screen. This, of course, means no stylus controls for Chibiterasu (that's the cute baby wolf you control in the game). Instead, you control Chibiterasu's movements with the d-pad, and use the face buttons to jump and perform a projectile attack.

Here's the first bit of good news for those worrying about Okamiden's transition to the portable format. The game's controls appear to hold up well on the DS. Moving Chibiterasu around feels good, and you don't get the feeling of imprecision certain other 3D games ended up having (I'm not naming names).

The reason for this could be Okamiden's perspective. Gameplay appears to be mostly in the 3/4 view, although the camera does sometimes move around more dynamically.

One new addition for Okamiden is the presence of a partner character who rides Chibiterasu's back and is featured heavily during gameplay. The demo included just one partner, the Kuninushi character who was introduced in the game's initial Famitsu reveal.

Chibiterasu and Kuninushi.

The demo has you make use of Chibiterasu and Kuninushi for a variety of puzzles. In one example, you have to cross a bridge that's too weak to support both Chibiterasu and Kuninushi. Thankfully, you can make Chibiterasu force his partner character to dismount and mount with just a button press. To clear this puzzle, you make Kuninushi dismount, get him to move to the other side of the bridge (see below for how you do that), then manually move Chibiterasu across.

Another example is as old as the action RPG genre. You have to get through a door that only opens when two switches are pressed simultaneously. I think you can figure out how to solve this puzzle on your own.

You don't directly control the partner characters. To make the character move, you first make it dismount, then press the R or L trigger to switch the game into a mode called "brush mode." The top screen fades to a light sandpaper color and swaps positions with the bottom screen. It looks just like a map of the area now, and you can freely mark it up with brush strokes that you input directly via the stylus.

To move your partner character you simply draw the path that you want the character to take, then switch back to normal mode with another press of the L or R button. The character will follow the path that you've specified, crossing any bridges or pressing any switches that lie in his way.

Using the brush mode to guide your partner character across a bridge.

The brush mode is used for more than just guiding your partner character. You can also use it to draw circles around dead trees, making them spring to life with cherry blossoms, and slash through rocks, opening up new paths through the world. This should be familiar to players of the PS2 original.

Other examples of brush use.

All the puzzle solving learned in the tutorial demo was put to heavy use in the more advanced demo. Here, you learn that monsters have started appearing from a cave in the northern part of town. You're given full freedom to explore from there.

This demo takes place in what appears to be a part of the proper game world -- specifically a large town. A bit disappointingly, it's split into rather small-sized chunks, with transition points in between the areas. These transition points have a bit of loading which I hope will be fixed for the game's final version.

Once you get to the cave, you'll find another area of concern: Kuninushi's health. When you press the button to make Kuninushi dismount, he jumps off and starts pumping his fists, apparently ready to take on any foe (the animation for this is as cute as Chibiterasu's design). But Kuninushi is actually pretty weak. Tiny creatures that run around the dungeon floors will strike at him, depleting his HP.

Chibiterasu and Kuninushi have individual HP meters, and the game ends when either reaches zero. You'll need to take care to clear areas of foes in advance of using Chibiterasu's projectile attack.

While Chibiterasu can take out those tiny foes directly on the dungeon field, the game's more complex battles, including the RPG-style random encounters that you face every now and then, warp you to a separate battle field for a more dedicated battle system.

These battles feel similar to what you might have played in the PS2 original. You take direct control of Chibiterasu in what's basically an enclosed arena. You can directly strike at enemies using a variety of attacks. Or, you can switch into brush mode for special attacks.

Using the brush in combat.

I only managed to play through a few fights before my play time ran out, but I didn't encounter any major issues with the combat. The only issue I'd mention is the slow speed for the transition to bush mode. Capcom will hopefully make it instantaneous, as in its current form, it slows down the pace of combat.

That's actually the only complaint I have about all of the Okamiden demo, actually. No, I won't be complaining about the visuals, because there's nothing to complain about. Okamiden looks great in motion on the DS. It manages to capture the spirit of the PS2 original, right down to flowers emerging from the ground as Chibiterasu runs about. Obviously, the game is not going to have the high level of visual clarity of its predecessor, but from a style perspective, it seems to be spot on.

It may be surprising given the difference in specs between the two platforms, but Okamiden doesn't feel like something that's been watered down to fit onto inferior hardware. In fact, it could benefit from the puzzle opportunities offered by the partner characters and the DS's direct stylus input.

The game's success will depend on the ingenuity of Capcom's designers, and I can't wait to see what they put together for Okamiden's final release.

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