By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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In an industry where innovation often takes a back seat to sequels, movie tie-ins and "me too" clones, it's refreshing when a new video game breaks convention to deliver a fresh interactive experience.
Such is the case with Capcom's "Okami," a Japanese-made adventure for the Sony PlayStation 2 that lets gamers paint their way through an epic adventure.
You take on the role of the sun goddess Amaterasu, in the form of a wolf, who must help restore world peace and beauty by defeating the eight-headed dragon, Orochi.
This malevolent force has awakened after a 100-year slumber, plunging the world into darkness and conjuring its minions to spread evil throughout the lands.
While traveling to dozens of regions to regain her Celestial Brush powers, Amaterasu quickly learns how to paint onto the world itself, and the effect is immediate: paint a bridge to traverse rapid rivers; draw a horizontal line through rocks and trees and the obstacles are cut in half; slash an enemy with a paint stroke through its body; add a sun to the sky with a painted circle.
Painting objects, or interacting with them, may seem confusing but becomes second nature after a couple of times. You must first press the right shoulder (trigger) button on the PS2 controller and then hold down the square button while painting a pattern with the left analog stick.
"Okami," which means "wolf" in Japanese, also lets you master combat moves during fighting sequences.
This includes head butting, jumping, tackling and springing off adjacent walls. Weapons will be acquired over time, divided into three categories: Reflectors (magical mirrors), Rosaries (special beads) and Glaives (mythical swords).
You eventually will learn skills from the Grand Master at the Dojo, such as a Holy Eagle (jump and kick at the same time), Fleetfoot (quickly sidestep to avoid a monster attack) and Digging Champ (dig through rocky surfaces).
Other non-combat moves include talking with characters, barking and biting an object to pick it up and carry it.
The game's main hook -- using a brush to interact with the world -- also lends itself nicely to the game's traditional Japanese visual style that fuses calligraphy and beautiful watercolor-esque art.
The stylized graphics -- employing the popular cel-shaded animation style -- gives the appearance and texture of ink on paper scrolls.
While the Japanese music is fitting and soothing, the game lacks spoken dialogue. That is too bad as there's quite a bit of text to read in the game (the mandatory intro sequence, with text captions, lasts about 15 minutes).
"Okami" and its paint scheme is much more than a gimmick.
This clever game lets you tackle puzzles and fighting in a new and innovative way -- and helps separate this action-adventure hybrid from the hundreds of others on the market. That, and the game's interesting story, memorable characters and clever visual style all help to make "Okami" a fresh and fun addition to your PS2 library.
"Okami" fuses calligraphy and beautiful watercolor-esque art.