August 11, 2018

Okami HD - Switch Review

It has been 12 years now since Okami was first released, with this being the second time that the game has released on a Nintendo platform, but is the jump to HD enough?

Okami tells the story of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, who returns to the mortal realm in the form of a wolf, having been away for 100 years, old evils are stirring and this is the catalyst for the return. When she lands, she meets Issun right away, the fact that he is about the size of a flea, makes their pairing even more amusing. Together they meet the spirit of a tree who explains what has been happening and what is needed, but for Amaterasu to make any sort of difference, she needs to regain her powers, so the pair head out and the adventure begins.

Where the game shines is the gameplay, not only does the game through in some Zelda type world exploration and dungeons, it has a healthy combat system as well, but it is the addition of the painting mechanic that really helps keep it interesting. At any point you can bring up a canvas and using your brush, draw anything, though there are only specific actions that result in a response from the game. If you draw a straight line, when you let go of the canvas button, if the line intersects with a cuttable item, it will be cut, one of the more useful brush techniques you pick up early on is that you can revive dead plants and such, by drawing a circle around them.

The brush is your most useful ability, so using it is important and the Switch version offers 3 different ways of doing just that, the problem is, one stands out as worth the time and one is workable, the other is not worth the effort. The one that works the best, is when you are playing the game in handheld mode, you can just draw the shape you need on the touch screen, the game automatically brings up the canvas and gives you a moment after you finish drawing, to the execute your action. It works perfectly, in fact it was so good, it was a strong contender to keep me playing this way, over docked. If you do stick the Switch in the dock and play on your TV, you can use the other two methods, one has you using the left stick to move the brush and it’s a completely workable solution, there were a few times when the game struggled to understand the more complex things I was trying to draw, but more patience and it was ok. The other method is using split Joy-Con with motion enabled and your right one becomes the brush, but it just does not work right, getting it to register how you are holding the Joy-Con is more of a challenge than anything else.

Combining the brush techniques with combat also offers a variety of ways to stay alive after getting into a fight, something you will be grateful for I am sure. While enemies start off pretty minor, they can quickly ramp up into dangerous and if you don’t use your brush to dish out a chunk of damage, you will find yourself struggling to win the fights. Enemies will lose colour and become a dull grey when they have had significant damage dealt to them, when this happens, if you use a brush move against them, like cut, you will be able to hurt them a lot. Once you have the bomb though, you can get a few in one go, something that some fights will be a lot easier to win, if you use. Each fight you enter though rewards you with a score and money, so making sure you pick the best way to win the fights is important as the faster you win and the less damage you take the more money you will get. If there is one thing that combat needs though and that is the ability to lock onto an enemy, when you have a few nearby Amaterasu will leap at the nearest one when you go to attack and most of the time that will be all you need, but the problem comes when you want to target a specific enemy, you need to hope that the game lets you. You can of course force yourself into facing a different direction, then aim for the one you want to attack, but the game can still attempt to drive you back towards another enemy, being able to lock on to your desired target would have made combat a lot easier.

You can use the money to buy assorted items, from food for animals, to talisman and more, while some items like the food are rarely used for anything too important, the talismans can give you a little boost at times. The food though, is your best way to earn more praise, which is the way in which you level up your skills, feed some birds or deer, heal a tree or remove the curse from an area and the world praises you for it, which as a God is your life force really. As you earn praise, you can then start to apply that to your skills, adding another inkpot, health bar or increasing your count of food pouches. While some actions will grant only a small amount of praise, when you add all the little ones up, you can bank a fair amount of it.

The biggest problem I had with the game and it is something I feel like I had when I played it on the Wii many years ago and that is the camera, fighting with it to stay focused. When you are just exploring the world, running around and what not, the camera is ok, but should you enter a town, smaller area or any indoor space, it becomes a hot mess. The camera will find a spot to live and just stays there, though it tends to follow still, which results in the camera being in an ok spot at the start and then never where you need it to be pretty quickly. The game offers you an overhead camera, achieved by press the Left should button, but leave one space and it changes back to its default and there are no options to change it.

The other issue that I have is more on the presentation side and that is the lack of option to make the text go faster, because when the text is on the screen, you are subjected to Banjo-Kazooie animal gibberish talk. There are few times when you can hold a button down and the text will proceed to move a little faster, but it does not happen often, in fact it happens far less than it should. You can skip cutscenes, which is nice, but then you miss out on story, so some faster text options, or the ability to disable the noise would help the game out immensely. Outside of these issues, the presentation looks incredible, something you will notice the moment you see the game in action.

A lot of people have given credit to the way the game looks and yeah, it does look great, but the opening scenes are sadly no the best representation of this, the later spaces are what show off just how great the game looks. While the game looked great back when it first released, the HD efforts shine now as the colours are vibrant, except when you bring out the brush, the subdued colours help you understand you are drawing, Amaterasu looks very nice against most any background, Issun is sadly hard to praise, because most of the time he is just a bouncing light. The denizens of the world fall into two camps, those with detail and those without, if they have things like faces, then they are of some importance, if they lack a face, they are just a side character and while it is cool to be able to determine which at a glance, it looks odd when you see one of each nearby.

The enemy design is still as wicked as ever, with each new type getting a fun little opening before you set about beating them in combat, the only problem, the names of them are in Japanese, Kanji characters specifically and if you read that, then you will know their names, the problem is, I and likely many others, don’t. So, while the designs are great, I could not tell you what any of the characters are called, because the names are not mentioned and while I can give a small pass on the presentation side of things, it would be almost flattened by the lack of clarity to the player.

Playing the game in docked mode provided some very clear and solid performance, I never noticed any dips in how the game ran, playing in Handheld was much the same. Seeing the world of Okami come to life on the small screen was incredible, with some things looking a little better on the smaller display. If you have not given Okami a shot before and own a Switch, I can’t recommend the game enough, it combines a cool world to explore, an interesting tale to discover and a host of odd characters to meet.

Review copy provided by Capcom

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