- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

Okami from Capcom, for PlayStation 2, rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $39.95. Beautiful paintings come to life through a video game that mixes Japanese mythology and art styles to deliver one of the best visual and interactive experiences of the year.

Thanks to the liberal use of cel-shaded designs, a watercolor world presented on scrolled parchment greets a single player who takes control of a powerful wolf. With a story as impressive as the game’s design — it takes nearly 30 minutes of exposition before the action even starts — the player learns the sad fate of the wolf, Shiranui, during its first encounter with the demon Orochi.

The eight-headed beast has returned, and a wood sprite has placed the life essence of the goddess Amaterasu into a statue of Shiranui. She now is the wolf and gets help from an ill-mannered bug named Issun (who happens to be quite the calligrapher) on her quest to defeat Orochi and its minions of evil.

The player runs like the wind as he attempts to restore life throughout the lands; interacts with people and animals to give them faith; and maintains an inventory of divine instruments, tools and holy artifacts.

The creature is just as stunning to watch in action. When he jumps, a tuft of grass may be ruffled, and he leaves patches of flowers in his wake as he runs.

I was more than satisfied just to watch the wolf move through the drawn landscapes, head-butt treasure chests and pots to add yen to my purse, collect fruits and dumplings to store in a feed bag for health-reviving snacks, and spread color across barren plains.

However, the game delivers a unique brand of power that can be harnessed through 13 celestial brush techniques that enable the player to treat the universe as a canvas to solve puzzles and defeat foes. Artists literally can freeze the action and use a brush to draw lines, circles and swatches of different thicknesses to change the flow of water, connect the stars to unleash a power from the constellations, turn night into day, slice an enemy spirit in half or chop down trees to continue a mission.

The impressive display is further enhanced through battles with massive bosses that must be destroyed with combinations of brush strokes and primary powers before the player can advance to the next level.

Additionally, the soundtrack adds a definite Japanese flair to the proceedings, and all of the text-based conversations are enhanced with some humorous audio gibberish.

Okami masterfully showcases the artistic potential of the video game as it moves far away from the current photo-realistic school of design and gives a fresh and delightfully unique look at the third-person adventure game.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, from Nintendo for DS, rated E: for everyone, $29.99. The epic conflict between ape and Italian plumber continues on Nintendo’s best hand-held gaming system, giving fans an a-“maze”-ing rescue mission.

During the opening day of the Super Mini Mario World theme park, a jealous Donkey Kong kidnaps the guest of honor, Pauline. The crime sets up the action that has a player control — individually and collectively — an army of Mario minifigures through more than 70 progressively more complicated obstacle courses to save the gal.

The player liberally uses the DS’ touch screen and stylus pen to control the puny plumbers through traps; enemies; and an assortment of springs, elevators and conveyer belts as he searches for an exit for the entire group.

The fun also continues through the construction of new mazes and the DS’ wireless capabilities, which enable builders to trade new levels with friends (each player must have a game card and DS) around the world.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]).


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