Okami

Pre E3: This year's E3 demo explored.

In my head, Capcom's divided into two parts these days. The first part makes all the obvious stuff - Resident Evil, Onimusha, Devil May Cry, and all the other breadwinners. The second part basically takes drugs all the time and occasionally does a game about a schizophrenic assassin who has sex with nurses, or a wolf who is actually a god and uses a paintbrush to cut people in half in heaven in between listening to a garrulous flea ramble on about mice with swords.

The latter's obviously a light-hearted way of summing up Okami, which appears to be aimed at compiling every piece of Japanese mythology Clover Studio can get its hands on in a manner that the average Japanese teenager will enjoy. Not being the average Japanese teenager (or indeed any sort of teenager), I'm reliant on the views of EG's resident Japanophile Rob Fahey to support that, but I am - having spent time with Okami last May and during a recent round-up of Capcom's new E3 line-up at its UK offices - still keen to see what the end result looks like.

inkpots

Inkpots for your brush can be picked up by smashing jugs.

Our Capcom guide reckons that Okami could clock in at around 60 hours in total, and its size is one of the reasons we haven't heard much about it since last E3 when we said it was the most beautiful PS2 game since ICO (that's arguably still true, and there's a timeless air to the game's graphics that means they still impress just as much a year later; playing it's like swimming through an oil painting). But it'll be back at E3 this year and we've played the new section, in which wolf god Amaterasu continues her quest to regain the 13 powers of the mythological celestial brush, helps a duff warrior sort out an unwelcome cave-squatter, and eventually uses a beach ball to grow a tree.

For the benefit of those who missed out last year and can't be bothered to read up, Okami sees Amaterasu navigating various dreamy locations fighting bad guys and solving puzzles - all with the help of the aforementioned celestial brush, which can be used to cut through rocks and wooden barricades, smack enemies and draw in missing scenic details. It works like this: when you've smacked an enemy enough for the game to highlight him with a red circle, or you've found something to paint, you hold R1, which pauses the action and lets you view it a bit like a sketch on canvas, at which point you use the analogue stick to manoeuvre your celestial paintbrush and square to daub the canvas with it. Draw a slash-line across a stunned enemy to strike him, do the same to a boulder or a tree to carve it asunder, and twirl it in a circle on the horizon to draw the sun - providing that's pertinent to the puzzle.

battles

Battles are real-time, but each one confines you to a circle area wreathed in flame.

As with last year's demo, we're still firmly in what feels like tutorial-land, with Issun, who rides around with you explaining story details and whatnot, imparting all sorts of information as you go along. This area is doing a better job of restraining the resident deity, says Issun, so beating up the thugs at the cave entrance won't be enough to bring life back to the compost-coloured hillside. So you journey a bit further, facing off against plants that lob exploding seeds at you - and defeating them by gripping R1 as they launch their projectiles, then slashing them in mid-air with the brush to send them back, stun the plant and let you pass by untroubled.

Soon you run into a warrior chap called Sasumo, who shrugs off your offers of help before running off to hide-WHOOPS-meant-to-say-train in his cave. This sort of stuff underlines the game's sense of humour, really - gentle and Zelda-esque. Following Sasumo, you find him staring down a bear which appears to be fast asleep (I'm not quite sure why the rhythmic expansion of its snot bubble conveys this, but it does), standing on top of what appears to be a silvery beach ball. Sasumo isn't going to stand for this, but he isn't much of a swordsman either, so as he does his super four-thrust attack, it's your job to hit R1 at the right time and slice what he's been trying to cut to salvage his dignity. Then, when prompted, to do the same to the bear.

slash

It isn't just puzzle bits you can slash - some objects, like trees and rocks, can be broken down with the brush too.

Sasumo then pegs it, and you're left with the silvery ball, which you soon realise would complement the picture outside the cave, where a dark sky hangs over a small pool that's been raised up next to a withered sapling in the centre of a clearing. The solution is to have Amaterasu nudge the ball outside into the pool, and then position her to paint the sun into the gap where the dark sky hangs. This then shines on the ball, which in turn concentrates a beam on the sapling, and soon - with a bit more brushing - life floods back into the area. This sudden eruption of life, which has been a theme of each of the Okami sections we've seen, is a gorgeous sight and the PS2 has no trouble doing it justice.

That said, we're still waiting to be let off the leash, so to speak. The puzzles and solutions, celestial powers and combat ideas are lovely, but our experience with Okami remains tightly bound by Issun's instruction - and any confusion over what to do is quickly dealt with by his clarifications, or the game camera's drawing back to reveal a relevant detail like the gap where the sun needs to go.

Still, it's another game from that bit of Capcom, and, as with Killer 7 and Viewtiful Joe before it, the developers seem to have been given license to go as far and as wide with it as they like. In other words, if this and last year's E3 demos are anything to go by, the other 59 hours could well be stunning. We wait and hope.

Okami is due out on PS2 later this year.

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