Friday, May 23, 2008

Sorry I was late

Here's this week's column from Mr. Dietrich.

'Okami' holds its own
By John Dietrich
Sports Copy Editor

Wherever the line is between making an homage to a piece of art and ripping it off, "Okami" stands just enough to the homage side for the game to stand on its own.

"Okami" is so similar to games from the Legend of Zelda series, you could swap out its main character for Link and never notice the difference. In all honesty, I wish they could magically use "Okami" to replace "Legend of Zelda: Windwaker."

"Okami" has sprawling worlds, a gorgeous artistic style, puzzles just infuriating enough to challenge you — and keep you coming back — and one feature that was so tailor-made for the Wii, it's a wonder the game didn't originate on the system.

The Celestial Brush technique enables you to paint effects onto the world. Because you play as the sun goddess Amaterasu, and because the game's artistic style is that of East Asian Ink and Wash painting, this makes sense. If it's dark and you need light, just paint in the sun. If there's some exploding that needs to be done, draw a bomb. The symbols used are simple, and time stops while you paint, but you've got to have a level of precision, or nothing will happen.

The catch-all tool is limited to just 13 techniques, so you can't draw a giant meteor, or summon dinosaurs or other items that would simply crush your opposition. Instead, it becomes your greatest tool, and you have to be innovative with it to solve the multitude of puzzles and vague hints you'll get.

The difficulty of the game is just low enough that you won't fling your controller at the TV, but just barely. Fighting and performing actions are laughably easy (but I'm only about 10 percent into the game), but it's the puzzle aspect that drives me nuts. You must pay close attention to the "hints" you receive, because it's easy to misinterpret what you're supposed to do.

This isn't aided by the lack of instruction the game gives you. Simple things — such as telling you how the health meter works, or warning you that although you're playing as a goddess-turned-wolf, I still can't swim for more than five seconds — are rarely explained clearly. You've got a lot of learning to do, and because the game relies on symbols instead of words, there will be frustrating moments.

Rest assured that you'll figure the mechanics out before the game erases you.

The rest of the technical aspects are solid, with music that blends in and lends an appropriate feel to the situation, tight control and a very fluid camera system that never jams up and rarely picks a terrible position.

The only real technical aspect that might be poorly received is the graphic presentation. The game's very distinct style does not lend itself to crisp, clean, super-high-pixel-count-oh-my-word-I-can-see-every-strand-of-fur graphics. You'll rarely be confused as to what's what, and if so, it won't be for long. I find the Asian-influenced style to be quite a lot of fun to look at, but I also don't own an HD television because I don't see the point. Give me a DVR and $2,000 worth of movies, TV shows on DVD or video games any day of the week.

So pick up "Okami" and play it on whatever you've got. I'm giving it 4.25 buttons out of 5.

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