In 2006, two games came out that had you playing as a wolf. One of them was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, in which the series’ hero, Link, went lupine: his mouth filled with fangs, his hair bristled and darkened into a thick coat, while his ears – which were Hylian, and thus naturally knifelike – required little in the way of transformation. The other game was Okami, which borrowed lavishly from Zelda – the classical adventure structure, the side-quests, the dungeons, and the drip-feed of fresh powers – but, on the four-legged front, it beat its benefactor by seven snarling months. What’s more, the wolf in question, Amaterasu (who happened to be the goddess of the sun), was all wolf: none of this shifting back to human shape. The entire adventure was played at a panting pace, adding a welcome breath of the wild to a worn template.
News sprang up last week that an Okami sequel may be brewing within the offices of PlatinumGames. Such was the suggestion – best taken lightly salted – made by developer Ikumi Nakamura, as she stood beside Hideki Kamiya, in front of a PlatinumGames studio sign, and declared, ‘Okami is going to be back! We want to make Okami sequel and fans are looking forward to it too.’ Indeed they are. They have been ever since the game first released. Their hopes were stoked when it was re-released on the Nintendo Wii, then when it was remastered for the PlayStation 3, in 2012, then again when it was polished and ported to current consoles and PC, in 2017. Its embers seem to keep a constant glow, refusing to cool in spite of damp sales.
Over the weekend, I played Okami in its most recent incarnation, on the PS4, in part to remember – with crystalline clarity – what all the fuss was about and in part to start thinking about what a sequel might, or should, look like. My first thought, formulated in what I estimate to be approximately 2.7 seconds, was that it should look much the same. Nakamura worked as an artist on the original, specifically on the backgrounds – though the word, in the context of Okami, seems a contradiction: backgrounds have rarely belonged so much to the fore. The land of Nippon is a wavering watercolour, brushed with black lines, both to lock in the delicate colours and to indicate movement – an inky whoosh to show wind, for instance, or the trail of a swinging sword.
More than a mere schtick, the art serves an overt purpose. It ties thematically into the Celestial Brush, of course: a gently dragging calligrapher’s brush, like a miniature mop with added grace. This you wield to paint the sickly world back into blooming health, and, 13 years on, the mechanic remains a pleasure – slashing the brush to carve up your foes and drawing circles to summon the sun. But more than that, the art seems to suggest that the game, like the brush, is washed in the waters of myth, clouding them over and making you feel as though you are playing a legend long fogged by time. All the while Amaterasu is as pale as blank paper, and almost as unreadable. Which is as it should be, given that she is a god. What a thing to play as an impenetrable character, one whose personality, such as it is, is described only obliquely by your actions. Her goodness is punctuated with growls.
All of which is to say that Okami has retained its mystery, along with much of its whirlpool pull on the eyes, to this day. Moreover, were it to reemerge, it would need to cast off its old form and be reborn – a challenge well suited to a sun god. Given that The Legend of Zelda lovingly demolished much of its old design two years ago, with fragments of the old formula glinting amidst the rubble, an Okami sequel might feel unmodish were it to draw its inspiration from the well of Nintendo tradition. The last Zelda game furnished in the classic style was Skyward Sword, eight years ago, and it already belongs to a different epoch. A new Okami calls for a new approach, and, for my money, a new animal. Perhaps in that spirit, PlatinumGames may be wise to look skyward: ditch the fur for a trendy clump of feathers and have Amaterasu reemerge as an eagle!
Imagine an overworld – Nippon, glimpsed from a god’s eye view – in which you hurtle from hub to hub before touching down to flap about the villages and over the plains. Perhaps, with a measure of Metroid, this new Okami could have you whipping to and fro, pecking at newly uncovered areas. This way, you wouldn’t have to see the rule book drastically dashed out the nearest window. Certainly, Metroidvanias – and games that lift lightly from that model – are starting to stale. What better way to enliven it than with a lick of watery paint? What’s more is that this Okami sequel would be poised, just as the original was, to take advantage of an emerging bestial trend. In recent memory, we’ve had A Short Hike, Feather, Falcon Age, and Untitled Goose Game, with The Pathless and Skatebird on the horizon. If a really good wolf game can come along twice in a blue moon, there’s no reason that Okami 2 couldn’t rule the roost.
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