Once we start talking about dungeons though, Okamiden’s flaws start to break through. Even though they’re obviously (and admittedly) inspired by Zelda, no puzzle, room or area of Okamiden is truly challenging. Need to get through a door? Use the key that’s in the treasure chest 10 feet away. Wall of ice blocking your path? Blow some fire to melt the obstacle. Time after time you have to engage in these non-puzzles that simply drag out the experience instead of create memorable dungeons. Certain Zelda (and Okami) areas were so pretty and well thought out we had no qualms about playing them two or three times; Okamiden’s are comparatively basic.
This begs the question, should Okamiden have been a handheld Okami, or something else more suited to the DS’ limitations? Look at Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks – they’re nothing like the console versions, but are unmistakably “Zelda” even if you don’t care for the complete touch screen controls. They’re re-imagined, DS-tailored games that play to system’s strengths.
Merely converting the lush PS2 world onto the less powerful DS feels like the wrong approach at times; several areas suffer from slowdown and choppy visuals, and oftentimes you’ll see aspects of the environment suddenly pop up when you’re five feet away. Watching this inspired world stutter and jerk around is both unfortunate and disappointing. Furthermore, using a d-pad to navigate a 3D world has never been a good solution, and it’s as annoying as ever in Okamiden.
Each of those issues (draw distance, slowdown, control) could have been solved with the 3DS – increased power and an analog slider mean better, smoother graphics and more responsive controls. We’re not going to get hung up on “what Okamiden could have been,” it’s just hard to ignore these issues when they pile up and start tugging on a game that would have looked and played better on PSP or 3DS. Yes yes, the DS has in the install base, but sometimes you should build a better house in a less populated area instead of cramming a compromised home into a crowded suburb.
Our last major complaint is the storytelling – not the story itself, which is cute and genuinely interesting, but how it’s conveyed. Minutes upon minutes are spent watching enormous cutscenes that display text at the slowest speed imaginable. Oh, you can skip these, but you’re skipping the entire cutscene and will undoubtedly miss plot points and clues explaining where to go next.
Meanwhile, some dialog scenes let you mash the A button and speed through the text. Why couldn’t this be the case throughout? We repeatedly had to close the DS mid-cutscene because we were trying to play Okamiden like a portable game – you know, on planes, trains, buses and cars. If you’re planning on sitting still for the duration, this isn’t an issue, but again, Okamiden should have taken the DS’ strengths and expectations into consideration.
At its core, Okamiden is a successful, shrunken-down Okami, but it’s trapped on a system that can’t entirely pull it off. The art style, music and mechanics, while lifted from the earlier game, are still captivating and worthy of exploration, though we couldn’t shake the feeling this story would have soared higher on another platform.
Mar 15, 2011