Porting Okami to the Wii always seemed like an obvious decision to make - at least on a mechanical level, with its gesture-based controls lending themselves well to the Nintendo machine. But, for a long time, the chances of this ever happening appeared to be a distant prospect. Despite numerous Game of the Year awards in 2006, this nailed-down 10/10 classic just didn't sell, and cold business logic dictated that Capcom eventually had to pull the plug on Clover Studios.
The fact that the public turned its nose up at such a critically lauded game has been the subject of much debate ever since. Capcom reckoned it wasn't helped by the fact it came out just as its core audience were moving onto next generation platforms; others point to the fact it was literally too arty for its own good.
But whatever the reason for its failure on PS2, the Okami story refused to die. Such was the immense goodwill surrounding this majestic, Zelda-inspired action-adventure, US studio Ready At Dawn threw its hat into the ring to perform conversion duties, despite the game's original creators no longer being on hand to help out. Ported under somewhat exceptional circumstances, the team has done a fantastic job of bringing what is one of the true landmark games of recent years to a platform it seemed destined for all along.
Having played several hours of the finished US build, it's abundantly clear that the conversion process has been something of a labour of love for RAD, with an attention to detail that ensures that even those who currently own the original will probably want to pick up the game when it arrives in Europe later at some point in the summer (or on import next week if you own Wii Freeloader, of course).
If you're one of the many who missed out the first time around, the first thing to stress is that it's nowhere near as weird or convoluted as it sounds, playing out like many third-person action-adventures - only with far more flair and imagination. Firstly, it looks absolutely fantastic, with its vivid and unique visual style like an ancient sumi-e watercolour painting brought to life, but the real allure lies in a game which - once you allow yourself to get into it - is so involving and rewarding, it genuinely puts most other videogames to shame by comparison. With something like 60 hours' worth of gameplay tucked away in its numerous sections, it offers an impossible amount of value and is one of those rare videogames that feels like a journey.
The storyline is similarly top-notch, benefiting from an unexpected degree of humour, which belies its somewhat serious, arty exterior. To cut a very long story short, the land has been plunged into darkness - and not for the first time. In preparation for such an event, a tree spirit called Sakuya commands a statue of a white wolf back to life, and it's up to you, Amaterasu, to sort the whole mess out using 13 'Celestial powers'. In true videogame style, you unlock these as you go along, aided and abetted by a lippy bug called Issun, a self-proclaimed 'wandering artist'. But, like I said, don't let the barmy story put you off - once you get beyond the typically verbose intro sequence, and the occasionally long-winded exposition, you might even start to appreciate the game for taking its time in setting the scene. And if you don't, well, Ready At Dawn has introduced a new ability to skip all the cut-scenes.
The first thing to report about the game's transition to the Wii is how well the most of the control system functions. In terms of the basics, the nunchuk's analogue stick controls the general movement direction, the d-pad changes the overall camera angle, 1 brings up the map screen up, the 2 button changes the player's point of view, A is for jump, C digs, Z barks, the '+' button enters the main menu, while pressing '-' gives you access to the game options. So far so good.
Where the control system works best is when you're called upon use Amaterasu's Celestial powers. The basic idea is that you literally paint the actions you want to perform on the screen. Used as a means of both solving puzzles and helping you perform powerful attacks upon your many enemies, the action pauses momentarily and the screen drains of colour while you draw a particular shape that corresponds to the special command you want to perform. On the PS2, this was a rather slow, methodical process that you pulled off with the analogue stick. Needless to say, the Wii's motion sensing prowess lends itself perfectly to this whole process of brush stroke gesticulation, and as a result you'll find it extremely intuitive to Power Slash enemies with precision, or draw specific shapes when the game demands it.
Early on, this extends to little more than painting in areas that require your Rejuvenation ability, drawing circles to invoke a sunrise to certain areas, or likewise using Bloom to bring flora and fauna back to life by encircling the area required. Later, more complex squiggles become part of your arsenal, but by then you'll have become rather more adept and precise with your efforts through repetition. Admittedly it does take a little bit of getting used to, but the game is forgiving enough to read your intentions even when your so-called circle looks nothing like one.
In terms of gesture-based controls, the conversion process is slightly less satisfying, and feels every bit as tacked-on as some of the motions in Twilight Princess. You initially have access to basic actions - that of swinging the remote to drive Amaterasu forward to attack or break pots/open chests and so on, while gesturing and jumping pulls off a mid-air attack. As you unlock moves like Fleet Foot, other gesturing also comes into play, allowing you to dash in the direction you flick the nunchuk, but sadly you'll probably find the whole process rather inexact and prone to misreading your input. Even basic attacks feel unresponsive, with very deliberate movements required at specific intervals in order to get the most out of the move set available to you. Again, as with the use of the Celestial Brush, adapting to what the game wants from you involves a bit of a learning curve, but it's not particularly off-putting. It would have perhaps been wise to offer players the choice of assigning attacks to buttons rather than requiring exclusive use of gesture-based controls, but then again, it's hard to know where they could have been mapped.
Elsewhere, one of the subtler things you notice in a side-by-side analysis is the slightly cleaner look of the visuals. Some of this is evidently down to the fact the game now runs in 480p widescreen, but some may also notice the wonderful parchment texture effect on the PS2 is now far less prominent. It's not a tragic loss by any means given the brighter, crisper look and feel of the new version, but some might consider it a small negative on an otherwise creditable port. In terms of content, the games are absolutely identical, so it's safe to say if you've been holding out for the Wii version you won't be disappointed in any way.
With the European version still looking like it's a few months away from release, there are a few options available to you. Either hold out for the inevitable localisation process and get the PAL version in a few months, pick it up on the cheap on PS2, or grab it from your favourite importer now. Whatever you decide though, on the evidence of our few hours with the latest build, Okami is as essential as it ever was.
Okami is due for release by Capcom on the Nintendo Wii in June across Europe. Alternatively, pick it up from all good importers next week.