You may or may not have heard of Okami, and if you have, you're probably a fan of it. Such is the way of cult classic games, good reviews, a small but loyal fan base, and poor sales. If you missed the game the first time around, don't worry, Okamiden is not a true sequel in the sense that you'll be lost if you haven't played the original. And if you didn't you'll be happy to see that there are enough references to the original in this game to keep you happy.
Like Okami, Okamiden is a puzzle-heavy RPG along the lines of a Zelda game. The thing that distinguishes it from other games of the type is that you literally draw your spells. Okami first appeared on the PS2 and then the Wii, but it has finally found its true home on the DS where instead of using a control stick or a Wii Remote to trace out your spells you can actually draw them with a stylus. A press of either shoulder button 'drops' the top screen down to the touch screen and you can draw your spell directly and precisely into the environment.
Okamiden puts you in the role of Chibiterasu, a wolf cub spirit that's the progeny of Okami's protagonist, Amaterasu. The demons banished by Amaterasu have returned to plague the land, and now it's Chibiterasu's turn to stop them. Doing so will have you walking familiar ground if you've played these types of games before – you speak to locals to get the game's story and your latest quest, you solve puzzles to complete quests, open new areas, and make your way through dungeons, and you fight enemies and bosses that you encounter along the way. Where Okamiden departs from the formula is in its use of the celestial brush. As you make your way through the game, benevolent spirits will teach you new brush techniques. These serve the dual role of spells and special items, and are all executed by drawing the corresponding brush strokes on the touch screen with the stylus. For example, if there is a boulder blocking the entrance to a cave, there is a brush technique that allows you to draw a line across it to cleave it in two. This will be very familiar to Okami players, but there is one brush technique that is completely unique to Okamiden. During your adventures you'll encounter allies who will accompany you on part of your journey. These companions normally ride on Chibiterasu's back, but you can dismount them and then use the stylus to trace out a path for them to follow. If there is an action that can be performed at the end of the path such as pressing a switch or opening a chest, the companion will do so automatically. As you can imagine, such cooperative play is central to a number of puzzles in the game.
Another thing that Okamiden throws at you that you don't normally see in this type of game are a handful of 2D side-scrolling levels that are like light versions of a shoot'em-up. These sections aren't quite the "bullet hell" kind of games that that genre is known for, but they make for a fun change of pace, especially with the boss battle waiting at the end of them.
Okamiden has a great hand drawn look to it that befits a game in which spells are "drawn" with "celestial ink". The story is enjoyable, although I'd imagine you'll get a lot more out of it if you have more than a passing knowledge of Japanese mythology.
There were two things that I didn't like as much about the game, the first being more annoying than anything else and the second is just what it is. The game's world is chopped into small sections connected by glowing blue portals and the delay involved in passing back and forth through these on a continuing basis is a bit annoying and constantly pulls you out of the story. A village and its immediate area may be chopped up into five or more subsections, and it gets tiring constantly transitioning between them during the inevitable back and forth between NPCs that comes with the territory in a game like this.
The other thing that I didn't like about the game is that it is incredibly easy. None of the puzzles take much thought, and I found myself constantly wishing that they were more challenging – or, rather, challenging at all. This is really where the game departs significantly from a Zelda game – a Zelda game won't hesitate to throw a tricky puzzle in your path. As it stands, unless you're a big fan of Okami I'd leave this game to the under 10 crowd. The game is rated E10+, though, due to numerous references to drinking sake. But other than that it is rather tame and pegs the needle on the cute end of the scale. Tweens and older gamers can still enjoy the game, but they will breeze through it.
Final Rating: 80%. A charming and unique game, but oh so easy.