With it’s first release back in 2006, followed by Ōkami has found itself to be a bit of a cult classic. Now, many years and consoles later, this beautiful, humorous, creative title makes its way onto the Nintendo Switch.
My first true console was the Nintendo Wii. Not the most amazing library, but it was Monster Hunter Tri and Ōkami that became my first loves in gaming. The title itself is actually a pun; ōkami is the Japanese word for wolf, but the kanji characters used for the title, 大神, pronounced the same way, translate to “great deity” and this perfectly describes the titular Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess, who is reborn as a wolf and uses the power of celestial ink to manipulate and revitalize the nature of folkloric “Nippon” (Japan). While the world and creatures are based upon Japanese folklore, the art direction is meant to emulate an East Asian style of ink wash painting referred to as sumi-e. This made the game standout and most critics agree that the execution is stunning.
The premise and visuals aside, I found the mechanics of the Wii version both fitting and frustrating. Motion control has always been heavily criticized and in my experience, clunky. For Ōkami though, it makes sense. Painting specific shapes with the Wiimote felt natural, but also, as previously suggested, clunky. I had assumed the brushwork attacks and tools would be strange on the Switch, even though it was successful as a PS2 and PS3 title (and in recent years, PS4, PC, and Xbox One.) To my surprise, the game was MUCH easier to handle. Rather than movement of the controller, brush techniques are allocated to the right joystick, which I find is fluid enough for the brushstroke motions, yet tight enough to avoid shaky lines, which can disrupt the desired affect of the drawing. In fact, if you’re playing in handheld mode, you can even draw the symbols with your left hand! Despite being a righty, I found this to be a nice option that still felt nicely controlled.
I can feasibly see some players complaining that the game runs too long and repeats certain boss battles and unique mechanics too frequently, but at the same time this version of the game feels better despite the length. Amazing visuals, lovable characters, and fluid combat kept me invested, but back on the Wii port I got so so frustrated by the required fishing and digging mini games. Both rely on usage of the brush controls, but the way these are tightened up on Switch, I had much less trouble. This isn’t to say the challenge is lost, however! Puzzles and time pressure still maintain a healthy difficulty, while not feeling impossible and keeping satisfaction in tact.
Ōkami has remained at $19.99 for over a decade and is well worth every penny. In a AAA world where games are often $40-60, this is refreshing and comforting to those of us on a tighter budget.
Freelance cartoonist, illustrator, & writer
School of Visual Arts Alumna