Ōkami is one of those rare masterpieces that stands the test of time. Aside from the DS sequel Ōkamiden, Capcom, for whatever reason, never really continued on with a series of games to expand the lore of the world. This is actually not a bad thing, because despite the Nintendo Switch being the sixth console to host the game, it still remains every single bit the fantastic piece of gaming history it always has been.
The first time I ever had a chance to play Ōkami was back on the PlayStation 3. Many critics lauded the game for its roots in The Legend of Zelda-style gameplay, though I tend to think that it’s an adventure that stands on its own two feet, rather than drawing aspects of other games.
For those not familiar with the game, the player controls the Sun God Ameterasu, represented as a white wolf. The story begins in a small village where the demon Orochi takes young women as sacrifice, and it is up to Ameterasu, with the aid of a miniature wandering artist known as Issun, to defeat Orochi and remove the curse laid upon the land. As the story progresses, Ameterasu and Issun meet a wide range of personalities such as Susano, a descendent of a fabled hero who defeated Orochi a century prior, and Sakuya, the one who summoned Ameterasu and guides her throughout the game.
The narrative progresses in a beautiful world inspired by a variety of Japanese art styles. Every ounce of the game looks as though it was painted in a traditional Japanese style, with thick black brushstrokes surrounding the main characters, water colors filling in objects and outlines constantly moving as though the animations are done with every frame being individually painted. It’s distinctly Japanese and suits the narrative that is heavily inspired by their ancient lore. It’s a good thing that Ōkami adopted such an art style, as it has allowed the game to age gracefully. Whether it is in docked or handheld mode, Ōkami is still visually stunning.
Furthering the art direction is Ameterasu’s main ability is to freeze time, and utilise a Celestial Paintbrush to paint over her surroundings. In the dead of night, Ameterasu can paint the sun into the sky, bringing forth the actual sun and breaking through the inky darkness. She can also paint dots in the night sky to complete constellations, set fire to objects, summon bombs and more. While many of her abilities are destructive, these are merely set aside to vanquish her foes, while her other skills are utilized in order to restore the land of Nippon. There are also times where the Celestial Brush is overused, and can be a little tedious as a result. For example, a moment early in the game requires Ameterasu to fill in a river with the brush in order to swim across to another island, I think I had to try and fill in the river four or five times before it was actually filled in properly.
That’s not to say that Ōkami is always taking itself completely seriously. Fespite the attention to detail and the environmental nature to the story, it’s quite often a rather funny game. Issun’s short fuse and Susano’s buffoonery provide a lot of comic relief in between moments of seriousness.
Ōkami on the Nintendo Switch sets itself apart from the other recent re-releases with the inclusion of motion controls. These were also in the Wii port, but the refined motion controls of the Joy-Con make this the definitive version of the game. I found myself easily treating my right Joy-Con as a paint brush, and the responsiveness of the controls made it feel as though I was literally painting on the screen. Equally as satisfying are the motion controls for fishing. Jerking the Joy-Con upwards pulls the fish out of water, and then it’s a case of utilizing the Celestial Brush to slash across the fish in order to catch it. Don’t fret though; the motion controls do not feel shoe-horned in and are only used in those moments where it feels natural. For those steadfast against motion control, everything can be performed with a traditional control scheme.
The only thing that really lets Ōkami down are the enemy battles. While enemies and bosses are very interesting in their own right, the arena-style battle system left me wishing for something a bit more traditional. When faced with an enemy, Ameterasu is surrounded by a wall of fire and it is up to her to defeat all the enemies before moving on. Each enemy has a weakness to a specific Celestial Brush move, yet some enemies can still take a long time to defeat. Over time, and after a lot of repeated battles, I found myself wanting to avoid them as much as I could, as they can disrupt the natural flow of the game.
Aside from the occasional overuse of the Celestial Brush and a tedious battle system, Ōkami is still very playable more than 10 years after its original release, and it remains an important part of gaming history. If you haven’t somehow found a way to give it a go the last six times it has been released, the Switch version is still worth checking out. This marks the first time Ōkami is portable, which can be a godsend for those who prefer to game on-the-go. Like a fine wine, Ōkami seemingly gets better with age, thanks in part to the gorgeous nature of the art style.
Like a fine wine, Okami has aged wonderfully, and this HD re-release has found a perfect home on the Nintendo Switch, thanks to stellar motion controls and the ability to play on-the-go.