Version tested: DS
There's an element of ritual to the best fairytales, and that goes for video game legends, too. Okamiden starts off as a time-honoured tale of a hero walking the path set out by his ancestor, but in this case, the story is only part of the ceremony.
As with Okami on PS2, Okamiden arrives on a system on its way out, with software sales dwindling and its successor's launch imminent. Like its mother, it seems destined for critical glory but sales ignominy, prompting wolf-like howls of despair from the few who take the opportunity to revisit glorious Nippon.
There's a degree of familiarity, too, to the game's opening stages. A series of substantial scene-setting vignettes try your patience before you get to control Chibiterasu, celestial offspring of the first game's lupine goddess, Amaterasu. And, initially at least, Chibi – like any young pup – wants to stay close to its mother. As bug guide Issun bounces around jabbering words of advice and you trot through areas likely to bring a warm nostalgic glow to those who loved Okami, you could be forgiven for thinking you were playing a remake rather than a sequel.
It's the hallmark of a game that's perhaps a little too reverential, that attempts to recreate the same experience on a handheld that's hardly suited to a direct translation. The original may have used Zelda as a touchstone, but – with one notable exception – Okamiden never looks to Phantom Hourglass or Spirit Tracks to see how a handheld action-adventure can be retooled to fit a portable console. Instead, Capcom has attempted to transfer Clover Studios' wonderful world to DS as was. That it hasn't quite succeeded is understandable; that it has tried is admirable.
Naturally, some of the appeal of that sumptuous ink-and-wash art has been lost in the move. Where the brush-strokes once had that authentic sumi-e sweep, here the chunky characters and sketchy backdrops lmore closely resemble a child's clumsy but charming mimickry; bold, blocky outlines with an almost Crayola-like look.
But then the style was always intended to capture the spirit of its subjects as much as their appearance, and as Chibi dances around with his paws on the shoulders of his human partner, the delightful animation fills in any gaps left by the rough-edged visuals. Even so, you can't help but feel that Capcom might have been better off waiting for 3DS.
Okamiden has been shorn of a little of its predecessor's epic sweep. In trying to cram such a rich and vast world into the outmoded circuitry of an ageing handheld, Capcom has naturally had to make sacrifices. The tendril-like pathways that spread out from the huge plains of Shinshu Field are all sectioned off with semi-translucent portals leading to brief pauses as the next area is loaded in. These waits are never long enough to be annoying, but occasionally you'll spend all of five seconds in one place before having to pass through the next barrier. Amaterasu at full tilt could run like a bullet train; her son is more like a bus that's forced to wait at every stop.
At times, the game is stubbornly, almost comically, unprepared to make concessions to portable play. Save mirrors are the only place to record your progress, and you can easily spend the best part of an hour playing without happening across one. The touch screen map feels like a wasted opportunity, refusing you the option to make notes or set waypoints and merely offering the ability to read memos or select items, and occasionally move the restricted camera left or right a bit when in more open environments.