In 2018, Ōkami’s reputation long precedes itself. Since its release, 10 years ago, its been hard to avoid its universal acclaim as one of the greatest games ever made. And let’s get our hot take out of the way – it actually is. Since the adventure RPG’s initial release on PlayStation 2, its also been ported to just about every console since, arriving as Ōkami HD on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Wii. Now, Ōkami HD has arrived on the Switch, without the 4K support that last year’s re-release featured, but making up for it with portability, Wii-style motion controls and new touchscreen controls.
These new control schemes are naturally related to Ōkami’s central and famous ‘Celestial Brush’ mechanic, where the player is able to flatten the screen into a canvas and paint symbols with an ink brush for various effects, like slicing enemies, creating wind or causing plants to bloom. When playing in docked or tabletop mode, the Joy-Cons’ motion controls can be used to swing the brush in much the same way as the Wii version, although while more intuitive it does feel less accurate. This is solved in handheld mode, where touchscreen controls allow pinpoint precision with your drawing, albeit a little awkward holding the ‘R’ button in one hand while you draw in the other. If you can’t get used to either, then the standard analogue controls are still the default – somewhat fumbly, but far more comfortable, although across all three control styles symbol recognition can at times still be a little dodgy.
Ōkami HD feels right at home on the Switch. However, given this is on the same console as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Ōkami has started to show its age a little more than in the past. Its progression and dungeon design are clearly inspired by the Ocarina of Time style of Zelda games, which now feels like an ancient era compared to Breath of the Wild‘s innovations. Other aspects, like an at-times shockingly limited draw distance, odd camera and lack of automatic checkpoints, are reminders of the game’s environment from two generations ago.
Ōkami HD nonetheless remains a deeply engrossing adventure, re-telling and re-imagining classic Japanese folklore and myths in a lengthy single-player story. Amaterasu, goddess of the sun, is re-incarnated in Nippon (Japan) in the form of a divine wolf to face the threat of the demon Orochi, but Ōkami HD‘s narrative encompasses much more than that, bursting with quirky characters, moments and a score of story arcs that play out and complete in a hugely satisfying way. Not only are major supporting characters like Susano, Waka and Issun hugely memorable, but so too are the huge cast of minor players around them, from the strangely sensual dances of Mr. Orange to the dutiful dog-squad of the priestess of Gale Shrine.
Ōkami HD‘s world opens up slowly, introducing you to new areas of Nippon first covered by impassable curses, then filling them with with side-quests, characters and secrets after they have been lifted. You’ll never be in a rush either, Ōkami HD is meant to be fully explored and savoured, like a long television or anime series, and its slow pacing actively fights against progress at times over the 40+ hour experience. Most of your time is spent running throughout the world and solving the locals’ problems like a guardian angel using your divine powers and Celestial Brush.
Entering combat seals you and your enemies off into a self-contained arena, where you have to use both conventional weapons like shields and whips, as well as your Brush techniques to defeat enemies. A constant stream of new enemy types, as well as new ways to combine equipment (with two weapons equippable at a time) keep combat feeling fresh and never a hinderance.
Of course, Ōkami HD‘s visuals still look amazing to this day, meant to replicate the style of Japanese ink illustrations, with constantly shifting-lines and a rough paper filter adding to the illusion. Playing on the Switch’s screen in handheld mode, it all looks fantastically sharp too, so much so that it quickly became my favourite way to play.
Ōkami HD has become the definitive version of the classic game, no matter which platform you play it on, but Ōkami HD on Nintendo Switch has several little incentives that may make it your preferred version. Portability is a big plus for an adventure as expansive as this, being able to crack into it on a lunch break or long train ride home actually feels like an intended part of the experience, like reading a few pages from your favourite book. The motion and touchscreen controls are nice options as well, even if I personally preferred the clumsier, but more comfortable, original analogue stick style 90% of the time. Ōkami HD‘s age is starting to show in small ways, but it remains a hugely enjoyable and essential experience for anyone with an interest in Japanese folklore, memorable quirky characters, or just good old-fashioned adventures.
-A huge adventure, now available intact in a portable format -Beautiful visual style looks sharp on the Switch's screen -Touchscreen and motion controls are nice options
-Some aspects are starting to age, such as limited draw distance