You've seen Bob Ross -- the afro-sporting TV artist who painted "happy trees"? Well, if he had redesigned Legend of Zelda, it would look a lot like Okami.
That may sound like an unlikely premise, but this is no ordinary game. In Okami, to save the world from an ancient evil, you control a god who has taken the form of a white wolf. You have the power to freeze the action, causing a magic brush to appear, which you can use to change reality by painting. It's sort of like Adam Sandler in Click, but without all the bothersome Adam Sandler.
Once you master all 13 techniques at your disposal, you'll be able to perform a wide range of David Blaine-worthy tricks. Wanna slice an enemy in half? Draw a line through his stomach. Need to revive a dead tree? Circle it with your brush, and it magically blooms. And while freezing the action to write "kick me" on villagers' foreheads gets you nowhere, it's damned fun anyway. Hey, you have the powers of a god -- why not abuse them?
It brings to mind the classic Looney Tunes short in which Daffy Duck is continuously erased and redrawn by a practical-joker cartoonist. In the same way, you'll artistically alter the landscape to solve Okami's puzzles and defeat foes -- creating and destroying as you see fit.
Anybody who remembers Mario Paint knows that drawing with a joystick sucks, but thankfully, the controls in Okami are effortless. The game design is sensitive enough to interpret your sideways blob with a curlicue as a bomb, and it reacts accordingly.
While painting is a large part of Okami's game play, it's not the entire picture. As with Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, there's a whole cel-shaded world for your lovable, four-legged dog-god to explore. You can dig up treasure, run errands for villagers, and complete other nifty side-quests. Or you can just stop time and draw to your heart's content.
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Saving the world also means hacking and slashing your way though a barrage of colorful enemies, from demon monkeys to karate-kicking fish. The battle system is first-class beat-'em-up, but whereas killing hordes of enemies makes you stronger in most games, Okami rewards you only for positive tasks, such as feeding woodland animals and reviving plant life. This is a game Al Gore could get behind.
The only blemish on this masterpiece is that it's a little too easy to finish. Game hints are spoon-fed to you by a Jiminy Cricket-like sidekick so often that it's almost insulting. If you've just learned the "Drawing Fire" technique and immediately come across a treasure chest hidden under dry leaves, do you really need someone to spell it out for you? It's like trying to do a crossword puzzle while the answers are whispered in your ear.
But after you've completed a breathtaking battle with an eight-headed devil -- furiously alternating between sword and paintbrush -- one thing becomes clear: Sequels for the Nintendo Wii or Nintendo DS are a must. While the controls are impeccable this time around, one can only imagine how much fun it would be to slash lines through the air like Jackson Pollock on the Wii or scribble a moon in the sky with the DS stylus.
Okami will suck you into its watercolor landscapes and colorful Japanese folklore. We'd argue that this is the final proof that games can be art, but art was never this much fun. l