The Muppet Babies Gambit is a dangerous strategy to employ when revisiting a story. Child-like versions of familiar characters, whether they’re adorable redesigns or actual descendants of old protagonists, can repulse as much as they enhance. Sometimes you end up with a delightful, popularly embraced game like Yoshi’s Island. Then there are games like The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which are beautiful but divisive, because of their diminutive take on classic icons. Okamiden’s cast, beget or reared by Okami’s principal characters, is a success. The lead character, Chibiterasu, is endearing, and his youth provides ample justification for a simplified, faithful portable imagining of the PS2 classic’s adventure play. As a complete work, though… Revisiting the painterly Nippon of the original in Okamiden feels a bit like revisiting your grade school as an adult. Everything is smaller than you remember it.
Picking up nine months after the events of Okami, Okamiden begins with Nippon’s countryside blighted by evil yet again. Sun goddess Amaterasu, remembering how a good apocalypse builds character, sends her son to renew the earth and learn the ways of the Celestial Brush. Chibi meets up with mama’s companion-cum-prophet Issun, but is told by tree spirit Sakuya that he must find other partners along the way, since Issun has to keep spreading the good news. This order provides the narrative justification for the player meeting with other young proxies for old characters—Susano’s adopted son Kuni and Waka look-alike Kurow, among others—as well as a basis for the game’s most significant variation on Okami’s play.
As in that game, you wander the land helping citizens in need, using different Celestial Brush techniques learned from the gods. At any given time, you can press one of the DS’ shoulder buttons to bring the top screen to the touchscreen, where you can draw sumi-e-style ink lines to affect the world; a horizontal line is a slash, a circle causes plants to bloom. Progress through the world is also the same. You typically go to a populated area, purify the land, then enter a dungeon. In yet another callback to The Wind Waker, Okamiden’s twist is that your partner characters each have a unique ability tied to individual dungeons. Mermaid Nanami can control water, actress-priestess Kagu can exorcise evil, etc. Half your time in dungeons is spent directing companions around dungeons, using the touchscreen to solve puzzles.
The adventuring is satisfying, but not necessarily thrilling, with most puzzle solutions being readily apparent as soon as you walk into a room. Combat is more problematic. Battles still take place in contained arenas off the main field, but since Chibiterasu is slower and less graceful than his mom, fights lose their balletic joy. This also extends to exploration. It simply isn’t as fun to control Chibiterasu, and the environments, most of which are directly recycled from the last game, feel less grand as a result.
Those issues aside, this is a world worth revisiting. The thick-lined, colorful look and Okami’s traditional soundtrack are impressively mimicked on the feeble DS hardware, and even though the scenarios are familiar, they’re no less charming for it. Okamiden is nonetheless a missed opportunity, never leveraging its youthful veneer to recapture its predecessor’s creative spirit.