Gary Eng Walk on the artful ''Okami''
(Capcom; PlayStation 2; Teen)
After Orochi, a ferocious eight-headed monster, roils a lush village and plunges everyhing into darkness by snuffing out the sun, a survivor resurrects a legendary white wolf (Okami, now inhabited by the spirit of a benevolent god named Amaterasu) to battle the menace and restore beauty to the barren land. Inspired by Japanese mythology, the world of Okami has the look of a serene watercolor, fluidly shifting back and forth from light to dark, from monochrome to color, and from blurriness to sharp focus to enhance the story.
Playing as Amaterasu, you'd be over-matched fighting Orochi and its horde of demons if not for your lupine character's primary weapon (and the game's most distinctive element): a ''celestial brush'' that can do everything from painting a bridge over a turbulent river to slashing an enemy to pieces. When the brush is in use, the game freezes the action on the screen and overlays a canvas on which you paint over specific objects or opponents.
Though refreshingly innovative, the brushstroke mechanics at times require more precision than the PS2's controller allows you. (Tasks involving complex patterns such as connecting the dots in a constellation of stars are especially difficult with the left analog stick.) It's a minor obstacle, however, that certainly doesn't disrupt the game's zen-like mojo. Okami is still a dazzling effort, one that probably won’t find as large an audience as it deserves, and one that will likely be forgotten when unknowledgeable critics bash videogames for being a crude, immature medium. A- Gary Eng Walk
(Nintendo, DS, Everyone)
Start with one cup Wario-inspired minigames, add one bipolar mommy chef, sprinkle in a teaspoon of Japanese kookiness, and what do you get? Cooking Mama, an addictive cooking simulation that will have you serving up gold-star recipes even if you’ve never prepared anything more complex than a package of ramen. The 76 unlockable dishes range from odd Japanese noshes (octopus dumplings, anyone?) to Western dishes (like spaghetti bolognese), each made by completing a series of minigames involving such kitchen skills as chopping veggies, weighing meat, cracking eggs, and sautéing. Your charming taskmistress is Mama, who will reward your cooking perfection with star-fiiled eyes or morph into a Sanrio-esque Satan and flash FAILED! in glowing letters should you burn a dish or drop an egg.
The graphics and sounds are simple and cartoonish, and complement the light-hearted nature of the game (although the repetition of the same Steamboat Willie tune will drive you nuts). While the minigames themselves remain fun due to the sheer variety of tasks you perform, the game loses some steam after you've unlocked most of the recipes and have no idea how to unlock more. Cooking Mama provides a nice helping of videogame fun for those who want to have their cake… and play it too. B+ Samantha Xu