October 04, 2006

Game Dork

A Worthy Journey

"Okami" can only be a Japanese video game. You play as a wolf that is also a god, and you are accompanied everywhere you go by a bug with god powers. The bug-god looks like Tinkerbell and makes its grand entrance by exiting a woman god's dress, where the bug had a good time.

"I wish I coulda spent more time in her kimono, if you know what I mean, heh heh heh," the bug chuckles. To say "Okami" is very Japanese is not an insult in the least. This is a wondrous, bizarre fantasy world where the white wolf, Shiranui, and the bug, Issun, stray about in a cherry-tree and tree-spirit village, which is threatened by mythical monsters and monkeyish green imps. There are plenty of other good games that feed off of Japanese culture and auras. But they are often kill-fests, like "Resident Evil" and "Ninety-Nine Nights," where action sequences of shotgunning zombies or swordfighting anesthetizes the effect of Japanese sensations.

"Okami" saturates the screen with Japanese islands, huts, artwork and sake. The artwork is no passive element. As the white wolf, you prowl lands in search of evil imps and such. You knock them around, but you can also freeze time and draw a line across their bodies with a paintbrush that slices them in half. Yes, you paint them to death. The paintbrush comes in handy elsewhere. Using various deity powers, you use it to draw a sun in the sky when monsters have pulled a metaphorical sackcloth over the heavens. You draw starry bridges to cross ruddy islands.

At one point, you must draw parts of a busted mill that produces sake, so you can you transport the alcohol to a warrior who needs the drink to build strength and courage for attacking a big boulder blocking a road. The sake is called "the vista of the gods."

It's too bad about the bug's love for the female form, and the sake, if only because these things may stop some parents from buying "Okami" for their children. Plenty of dumb games appeal to kids for their affiliation with tie-in movie titles and goofy characters. "Okami" offers much more childlike wonder, if also a few dark themes of tragedy befalling villagers.

It's one of the most creative games of the year. The look of its cel-shaded, comic book imagery seem more 2-D than 3-D. But the flat art comes to life with fluid action and an almost messy, hand-drawn sumptuousness.

"Okami" does have a weakness, which is also very Japanese. Instead of watching cinematic cut-scenes where characters speak to each other, you walk your wolf up to villagers and engage in push-button dialogue that you read rather than hear. Kids can probably deal with these lengthy tales better than adults like me can.

But it's a worthy journey, with its moon cave-dwelling beasts, and eight-headed villains, and birds that you need to feed (or bite; your choice). The bug, by the way, doesn't like to be called a "bug." It prefers the title of "wandering artist." He's a picky little freak.

("Okami" for PS 2 — Plays fun. Looks great. Moderately easy. Rated "T" for crude humor, fantasy violence, suggestive themes, use of alcohol and tobacco, blood and gore. Three stars out of four.)

New to You — Used Game of the Week

Now that "The Godfather: The Game" is available for the Xbox 360, the previous Xbox and PS 2 versions are selling for around $20 in used stores. It's not my favorite game. It seems like a slacker "Grand Theft Auto." But it's not bad. It's definitely cooler on the Xbox 360. And "The Godfather: The Game" was very popular for Xbox and PS 2 for its cinematic look at the life and bloody time of the movie. It's also very ambitiously long, and pretty tough to beat for those who like a good challenge. It's rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence, strong language and suggestive themes.

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

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