I'll be honest – before I even played Okami, I was ready to give the game a good review. The original, which appeared a few years ago on PS2, got great reviews across the board and was widely praised as one of the best PS2 games of all time. I never got the chance to play through the game when it first hit stores, but it came so highly recommended that I figured I'd wait for the Wii version, rather than pick up a used copy of the original. Also working in Okami's favor was the fact that it was developed for the Wii by Ready at Dawn Studios, a relatively new company that was behind two of the PSP's best games, Daxter and God of War: Chains of Olympus. So… highly praised original product, developed by a fantastic company for the Wii… how could it be anything but amazing? I hate to say it, but Okami isn't as awesome as it looks on paper. It isn't a horrible game, but it feels like if things were tweaked just a little, Okami could have been the game I'm sure a lot of people expected it would be.
I'll get this out of the way first: Okami draws a lot of parallels to The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, another Wii adventure game that involves controlling a wolf (at least some of the time). Wii controls + four-legged protagonist = well, that is the extent of the similarities. It seems that some reviewers can't get through a sentence about Okami without mentioning Twilight Princess, so I figured I'd just toss it in here at the beginning of the review. If you wanted a review for Twilight Princess, you'd read one. This review will be about Okami from here on out.
Without going too far into the plot, Okami is about the sun god, Okami Amaterasu, come to Earth in wolf-form, to battle monsters and a recently resurrected demon snake-thing named Orochi. Yes, Orochi. Thankfully, in Okami, Orochi is a demon snake, not another sad, tired sequel to Dynasty Warriors (haha). There is some back story involving a warrior and another wolf from 100 years ago, and the plot certainly advances through the 20-30 hours it will take to finish the game, but Okami's story plays like a mix between an old Japanese proverb, the environmental protection overtones last seen in Super Mario Sunshine and every single other adventure game ever made. The plot will keep you interested for sure, but this is no Persona 3; you have good guys, you have bad guys… guess who wins in the end.
If that is all Okami had to offer, the game would be very sad indeed. The two features that really separate Okami from the pack are the Celestial Brush and the game's artistic design. I'll start with the design, because the Brush is what really brought the whole experience down, in my opinion anyway. I can say with all certainty that Okami doesn't look anything like any game I've ever seen. The whole thing, from the characters and enemies to the environments and even the weather, looks like it was ripped straight from the Japanese watercolor exhibit in an art museum. When Disney's Mulan portrayed wisps of smoke with dark lines and tiny circles, the idea seemed forced, especially against the backdrop of traditional Disney animation. Okami's resemblance to Japanese art never feels forced; every single visual in the game feels authentic somehow, like it could be hanging on the wall right next to Hokusai's "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa" (look it up, you'll see what I mean).
Okami may look great, but if you want a pretty game with no emphasis on gameplay, I'd recommend Final Fantasy X (that is sarcastic comment #2, if you're keeping score). Okami makes use of a user-controlled paintbrush, called the Celestial Brush, to solve puzzles, fight enemies and interact with the game's environment. By holding the Wii remote's B button, the game screen flattens into a canvas. Holding A presses the paintbrush to the canvas and allows you to draw lines, circles, etc. Releasing the B button brings the game back to life and your brushstrokes take effect. It is a bit hard to explain, but if you see it once, you'll get the gist of how it works through the whole game. On paper, it sounds like this game was basically made for the Wii, and this system is why so many fans rallied for so long to see the game ported to Nintendo's system. It kills me to say it, but the Wii controls just don't work very well.