Okami hands-on

Minor demons and overworld maps are one thing, but entering the Zelda-style dungeons to clear out screen-filling bosses is where the magic really happens. About halfway through a swampy, rundown palace, we got the exact same feeling you get when you're playing a brand-new Zelda game for the first time. Perfect level layout, sensible puzzles and engaging combat may be hallmarks of that legendary franchise, but they're seeping through every thick black line of Okami 's jaw-dropping visual style.

We already detailed the boss fight with a giant spiderhere, but the reward for downing this grotesque creature is just what you'd expect - it turns into a towering, beautiful flower that purifies the rest of the temple. Any task like this, be it the monumental overthrowing of a boss or simply feeding seeds to a flock of birds, makes the world of Okami believe in you a little bit more. As your priderises, so does your life, amount of ink for the Celestial Brush and amount of money you can carry. A powerful goddess, as you may imagine, is more likely to inspire than a weak-willed one.

There are so many little things to love about Okami that we're really having a hard time not blurting them all out (the wolf makes flowers sprout wherever you run, a day/night cycle that actually affects what happens...). The game's only a few weeks away from release, but its infectious charm already has us hooked. Whatever you do, don't let this one slip past without a look. It could very well be the most compelling game for the PS2 this year.