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Okamiden and Dragon Age 2 illustrate the dos and don’ts of demos

Supposedly, development on Okamiden began when Kuniomi Matsushita showed fellow designer Motohide Eshiro a tech demo of a potential Okami sequel. I'm willing to bet that sample was nothing like the one we got on the Wii's Nintendo Channel this week.

Demos for big-name DS games aren't common, so the Internet was abuzz when Nintendo uploaded the sample of Okamiden. Unfortunately, it follows the trend of focusing entirely upon mechanics, an approach that does nothing to sell the player on the full game.

Developer Capcom should have followed the example of another high-profile sampling released this week: BioWare's Dragon Age 2.

 

This taste of Okamiden is as simple as they come. You control Chibiterasu (the adorable pup of Okami protagonist Amaterasu) as Kuni (the adorable son of Okami lovers Susano and Kushi) rides on the cub's back, explaining the controls. The entirety of the demo takes place on a series of floating islands that serve as an obstacle course to demonstrate the game's most basic mechanics. On the last island, you combine all the lessons you've learned to solve a simple puzzle before getting a brief glimpse of combat.

It lasts about five minutes in all, and while it introduces you to the controls and actions you'll be using throughout the full title, you're left without a clue of how these mechanics will actually apply. Kuni never even mentions a single detail about the rich world of the series, a major draw of the original Okami. The sample is literally nothing more than a tutorial. I can't imagine it convincing any undecided customers to make the purchase, but I can easily see it dissuading a few. That begs the question, "What's the point of this, anyway?"

Dragon Age 2

This week's Dragon Age 2 demo illustrates exactly what was missing from Okamiden's. From the very beginning, the player can make meaningful choices. The first is to select the gender and class of your main character. Brief messages appear every now and then to quickly explain the mechanics, but these bits of information are never intrusive. They're not the focus, either.

As you slay hordes of enemies, you'll eventually earn enough experience to level up your party members. You can even allocate stat points and progress in class-specific skill trees as you would in the full game. Certain options are locked, such as facial customization and your inventory, but those features would only distract you from the entire point of the experience, which is to give you a small sense of what it's like to develop a character in Dragon Age 2.

Some demos should focus on letting the player mess around with mechanics, especially if they're unique, but every sample should strive to recreate that feeling you get when you finally reach the center of a gaming experience. In the case of Okamiden, I imagine that would be a similar moment to when you first arrive on Shinshu Field in Okami.

Okamiden

Shinshu Field is the first open area of the game, reminiscent of the time you took your initial steps onto Hyrule Field in Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Instead of force-feeding the player mechanics and obstacles in a straight line, Capcom should have let us run across the plains and explore. It should have let us fight enemies, level up, earn money, and buy items so we can do it all over again to get a feel for what it's like to make progress for ourselves and not because they made us.

I understand developers don't always have the time and resources to build a quality demo. What I don't understand is why they would bother to hastily throw together one as ineffective as Okamiden's.


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