Okami looks amazing. But you already knew that, so we'll get down to business from the off and tell you how it plays. Well, after we tell you about how amazing it looks when Amaterasu, the main character, restores nature with the Celestial Brush.
Holding R1 and painting with Square lets you draw objects, which then appear physically in the game world. Draw a circle in the sky and a glowing sun will appear, sketch a swirl and a gust of wind will breeze through the level and, if you can't get across a wide gap, ink in a bridge and scamper across. But the best effect lets you restore nature. Draw a squiggle on the ground and a line of flowers will appear, or draw a dot to plant a tree. Bigger events (like restoring a large, dead tree) make the whole area erupt with flowers, plants, streams, sunlight and animal life. It's wonderful.
Frolicking around a level you've just restored is a joy. In fact, it's almost like being a real canine. You can dig holes, bark at people, chase animals, pick up bunny rabbits in your mouth and generally cause mischief. We spent ten minutes headbutting monkeys into a lake, for example. You can cover people in ink with the paintbrush too, but wolves don't really do that. You'll get so absorbed in the world.
Progression is fairly traditional. Go through a level, solve a puzzle or two, defeat a boss and unlock a new ability. It never slips into routine, though, because it looks so delicious. There are villages dotted around the countryside filled with likeable townsfolk, all of whom Amaterasu must cheer up by helping them with their everyday woes. The sake maker for example. Her waterwheel is broken and business is at a standstill. But, with a flick of the Celestial Brush, you draw in the missing part and the wheel springs into life. So all you're basically doing in Okami is restoring nature and helping people. Could there be a nobler pursuit? It's so simple and honest that now whenever we play an urban crime-'em-up, we'll be trying to help people instead of mowing them down in an urban drive-by.
But when she's under threat, Amaterasu puts her niceness aside and gets her paws dirty in combat. When a battle starts, you're surrounded by swirling kanji lettering and 'locked' in a small arena with the enemy. The monsters you face are, erm, strange evil musicians. There are big burly drummers who send you tumbling back with pulsing shockwaves and nimble guitar-playing pixies who leap around confusingly. You have a few basic combos, all of which are pulled off via prods of Square and Triangle. You can use the Celestial Brush in combat too; confuse the enemy by drenching them in ink or drawing a horizontal line across their bodies to slice them in half. As you unlock more brush powers combat gets more exciting and, if you just can't be bothered with another battle, you can leap through a portal and escape back to the outside world. Fighting pays off, though; accumulated points can be used to pump up various elements of Amaterasu, from the amount of ink she can carry to the size of her health bar.
Peace on Earth
But most of your time will be spent running around and exploring. Some have accused the game's difficulty level of being too low, but making it frustrating or difficult would go against everything the game stands for. It's peaceful and elegant and you'll play it for hours without hurling your pad to the floor in frustration even once. That doesn't mean you'll fly through it, mind. There are dozens of side-quests dotted around the fields and villages of rural Japan that you can complete, not to mention dead trees and areas of tainted land that you'll need to restore with the Celestial Brush. You can buy stuff too, including new fighting moves from a crotchety old dojo master, one of which lets you use the spinning shield thing on Amaterasu's back as a weapon.