Okami wouldn’t be out of place in a Best Zelda Game list.
I had a prevalent thought constantly rattling around my mind while playing Okami HD on Switch: this game is gorgeous. The painterly cel-shaded look absolutely holds up 12 years after its PlayStation 2 debut, looking fantastic in HD whether on the TV or on the Switch screen. The touch-up for modern consoles makes Okami look like I remembered, not as it actually was on PS2 or in its 2008 Wii port. Putting the arresting art style and world aside, Okami for the most part holds up extraordinarily well for being a 3D game made over a decade ago.
For the uninformed, Okami is a Zelda-style game from Bayonetta and The Wonderful 101 creator Hideki Kamiya and a lot of the core that would go on to form PlatinumGames. Our 10/10 review of the Wii port called it a “stunning game experience through and through.” It’s certainly still something special, taking Nintendo’s 3D Zelda formula and putting a unique and engaging spin on it. You play as the godly wolf Amaterasu who is trying to restore the world, which has been damaged by malevolent forces of the villainous Orochi. Ammy travels across the beautiful world, saving villagers, solving puzzles, fighting off foes, and prettying up the countryside.
The story is relatively linear, though a variety of side quests help stave off some of the formulaic feelings. Okami’s hook is that Ammy has the power of the Celestial Brush, which uses a magical paintbrush to draw ink over the world to interact with it. While it’s commonly been mapped to an analog stick, the Switch version makes use of the system for touch screen and motion-controlled painting options. It feels great and even offers customization as to which Joy-Con (left or right) to map motion controls to. Weirdly, the motion controls stay on when the Joy-Con are attached to the system unless you deliberately switch them off in a menu. This can muck up gameplay if you’re not keeping the system still while playing handheld, but it’s overall a minor issue and might just be a limitation of the system itself. Regardless, the options of analog, motion, and touch might make this the best realization of the paintbrush aspect of Okami. To boot, the HD rumble here is thoughtful and nice, but can be easily toggled off it it’s not your bag.
The Switch version is not, however, the definitive version in totality of Okami. While it looks visually resplendent, the graphics here don’t come close to the recent PlayStation 4 and Xbox One releases that made use of 4K. Although the resolution might not match past releases, the Switch version is stable, running at a consistent frame rate with no noticeable issues across the long adventure.
And long it is, almost too long. Okami does that thing where you get about two dozen hours into the game and it feels like it’s the end and then - surprise - you still have a lot more to go. It’s always nice to have more of a good thing and the finale of Okami is great, but it wears thin in the back half, even more so because age hasn’t been kind to it in some respects. The camera is my biggest bone of contention, mostly controlled by the right analog stick and a shoulder button. I had to fight with it a lot, especially when trying to line up the right angle for a paintbrush ability or attack. The dialogue is also sluggish to display, which often slows down the pace. No options appear to exist to change the text speed, but cutscenes can be skipped with the press of a button, which is convenient if this isn’t your first time playing it (like in my case).
Even if I think it might have been better off being a little shorter, Okami does make strides to keep the gameplay fresh, mostly because of the overall variety. Combat, mostly done in short arena bursts, has a steady amount of depth added to it over the journey, with multiple weapon types, strategies, and abilities. Also, the Celestial Brush is interwoven into battle and the puzzles mostly hinge on it, making the brush quite the dynamic tool over the 40-hour quest.
But even in spite of a few, mostly minor, dated problems, the raw beauty of the world made me happy to be revisiting this game. This is something to check out, especially if you missed out on it in the past. Okami is as polished as a Zelda-like experience as they come and the Switch port is close to its best realization. If you’ve played it through before, there’s nothing new here for you other than the soft warmness of a pleasant visual presentation and a smartly made adventure that stands up to the test of time. Okami HD is wonderful.