Smile and Nod

Smile and Nod: Games to Ease the Summer Drought

Russ Pitts | 9 Jun 2008 17:00
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If we're talking about games that didn't get a fair shake in spite of carrying a mountain of awesome, Okami (pictured) is a gimme. This clever, quirky game starring a paintbrush wowed critics and pretty much no one else. It's one of those games you look back on and wonder why it crashed so hard that the studio behind it crumpled to dust. And yet, you still somehow never find the time to play it.

Here's what The Escapist's Shannon Drake had to say about the game:

I found a beautiful world with interesting characters and a compelling plot I hadn't played through 800 times before. Sure, it's saving-the-world, but I've seldom saved the world by fighting away dark creatures with a combination of a Kingdom Hearts-style combat system and my expert painting technique. The Celestial Brush is Okami's gimmick, in which your wolf-goddess modifies the world itself by...drawing stuff. The bridge is out? Draw it back in. Need a killer hit to finish off the boss? Draw a slash and he falls before your mighty paintbrush.

Fortunately for the artistically-impaired (including myself), the system is actually fairly simple, and relies more on lines, circles, dots, and experimentation than serious heat of battle drawing. And there's an undeniable satisfaction to watching a formerly dead and limp tree burst into riotous bloom and recolor the world after a few brushstrokes. For once, I'm having an undeniable effect on the world, and I see it when I charge through a conquered area. The grass is greener, the trees and flowers are blooming, the water is blue rather than sludge, people aren't statues anymore, progress is being made. Being a goddess, I can also put the sun in the sky to admire my work in daylight. How cool is that?

How cool indeed. Add in the hand wavey awesomeness of the Wii and this is sure to be a hit - again. Maybe this time people will actually play it. Okami for the Wii is next on my list I know that much.

Viva Piñata

I bought a few terra cotta colored planters several weeks ago and planted an herb and pepper garden on my patio. When the jalapeños mature, I'll use half of them to make salsa and freeze the other half to use in later cooking. The serranos will get dried and used in various dishes as will the thyme and oregano. The mint is for mint juleps.

There's something immensely satisfying about plunging your hands into cold earth, tinkering a bit and watching the literal fruits of your labors spring forth over time. To be able to say "Like that? It's made with herbs form my garden." is, for food geeks, akin to ruling the Xbox Live leaderboards.

And yet, spending five full minutes watching a gem tree grow in Viva Piñata puts actual gardening to shame. There's just something intrinsically cool about breeding mutant piñata animals and them sending them off to get a beating with a stick. Something awesome about building a fantasy garden to lure crocodiles, unicorns and elephants. Something satisfying and wonderful about playing a game designed from the ground up to make you feel like a kid again.

A lot of folks wrote this one off when it came out as being for kids. I'm a kid. Bite me. I love this game. Also, the sequel comes out this fall.

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