Friday, May 16, 2008

LostWinds review

Alright, WiiWare review number two. My Life as a King on Monday!

Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Release Date: May 12th, 2008
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
ESRB Notes: Mild Fantasy Violence

It seems that you just can't talk about WiiWare without LostWinds being mentioned. People have hailed it as the best title available for the service, and some have even called it better than many retail-release Wii games. Is LostWinds really all it's cracked up to be, or are reviewers just full of hot air?

LostWinds is chronologically preceded by quite the interesting little story. Back when the world of Mistralis was first created, there existed twelve powerful spirits that reigned over elements of the world (Fire, water, wind, light, etc). After their job was done, the spirits all retreated to The Great Tower, from whence they looked over their world and saw to it that all went well with its inhabitants. All but one of the spirits was content with being equal, and the odd one out was Balasar, the spirit of the Sun and the Moon. He felt he was superior to all the others, and he thought he should take over and rule as one supreme entity. When his plan was found out, the remaining eleven spirits created a special stone in which to confine Balasar for all eternity. Balasar was cornered, but when the noble spirits seemed to gain an advantage, Balasar began to fight back. The wind spirit, Enril, sacrificed herself to seal away Balasar, using a gigantic tornado to capture both her and the evil one inside the stone.

During his time in the virtually impenetrable prison, Balasar transformed into a creature of pure hate. Upon finding a weak point in the stone, he used his claws to etch away at it. After centuries of chiseling, Balasar finally shattered the stone, freeing himself. Enril, however, was not so lucky. She remained trapped in each of the seven pieces of the stone, the remains of which scattered across the globe. And so she lay in wait, dreaming of the day someone would find her and help stop Balasar.

And this is where the game begins. Toku, a young boy from a nearby village, is roused by the wind powers of Enril. She leads him to her, and, enlisting his help, finally starts on the path to fighting back against and defeating the evil Balasar.

Toku: The one young boy who, when partnered with Enril, can stop the evil Balasar.

Well, LostWinds certainly has quite the back story! But how does it play? In short, LostWinds is like Okami meets Kirby Canvas Curse. Players take control of both Enril and Toku, controlling the wind spirit with the Wii remote and the young boy with the Nunchuk. Enril takes the role of the cursor in LostWinds, and players utilize her wind powers by pressing A and drawing lines across the screen. This creates a quick gust, blowing around anything from enemies to rocks to Toku himself. Her wind powers can even manipulate fire and water, causing them to sweep across the land, burning or quenching anything they touch. While Enril takes care of the magical wind manipulation, Toku handles all the jobs that require a physical touch; weighing down switches, talking to villagers and carrying Enril's stone container.

Controlling both characters at once never gets confusing. In fact, I often forget that Toku and Enril are, indeed, separate creatures. Taking control of them both at the same time feels so natural.

Enril's wind powers serve as the tool in solving the game's many (Rather easy) puzzles. Some puzzles may require Toku to get a rock from one place, have Enril bring it somewhere and then smash something with it, while others involve using wind to ignite hot coals and use the new source of fire to burn down an obstruction. Really, it's pretty hard to get across what these puzzles are like in words. They're really a whole lot more exciting than they sound. Sadly, for the most part, they're also fairly simple. I got caught on maybe two puzzles in the whole game, three if you count the boss battle.

Above is one part of what is one of the few puzzles to pose much of a challenge to me

I suppose one thing that makes the game a little bit harder is that Toku has only four health points. He can be injured by falling, getting hit by rocks or being attacked by the little blobby enemies that are oh-so-common in this game (Just whip 'em in the air, thrust them back down and watch them go splat). Toku's health can be recovered by eating a scarcely-available fruit, and if his health runs out, Enril can revive him provided she has the power to do so. Enril can store enough energy for three revives, and more energy can be gained by gathering little blue sprites that appear when enemies die. However, I had to revive Toku no more than three times throughout the entire game. It was never that easy to get hurt, and I rarely got hit four times before I found more restorative fruit. So LostWinds is a pretty easy game, but still very, very fun. Just don't expect anything incredibly challenging.

If there's one other problem with LostWinds, it's that it only takes about three hours from start to finish. I suppose I can forgive this due to it being a downloaded title crammed onto the Wii's puny 512 MB of memory, and even if such restrictions didn't exist, I still may have preferred it as short as it is. It's one of those games that manages to do quite a bit in a small period of time. For comparison, take last year's Portal (PC, XBox 360, PS3). It took only two or so hours to get to the end of this game, but it probably wouldn't have benefited at all from being longer. Like LostWinds, I feel it's the kind of game that accomplished all that needed to be accomplished in the small time it's there for. Sure, both end with somewhat of a cliffhanger, but that's no real big deal. Three hours may not seem like much, but LostWinds does a lot in such little time.

Enlarged to show texture

As you can tell by the above screenshot, LostWinds is one heck of a great looking game. Everything is so vibrant and alive. Just drifting your cursor across a tree or bush causes the leaves to ruffle, and the people in the background even respond if you hit them with a gust. The whole game feels like a window to another living, breathing world.

LostWinds is also very pleasing to the ears. The game's main theme is amazingly well orchestrated, and even manages to sound spiritual and windy somehow. And you gotta love the little "Ulp" noises the blob enemies make when you whip them around. I almost don't want to kill them just so I can hear it over and over! Even the villagers make little noises of surprise when you blow them over, just making everything feel even more alive. I know I've tossed that word around a lot, but dammit, if there's one word that can accurately describe LostWinds, it's "alive".

As I said before, LostWinds really is a fairly short title. But still, three hours seems like the perfect length for it. Like great movies, it took as much or as little time as it needed. In this case, it only needed three hours, and that's just fine with me. Better to end before it's welcome is overstayed. Any new game mechanic or plot twist just wouldn't have meshed well with the game's progression, either. If they need to make a sequel to finish, I'm cool with that.

And if you really want to get all there is to get out of LostWinds, you could always go back and try to collect all twenty four golden statues hidden throughout the land. I got about eighteen or so of them, and I think another run for completion's sake would be fun.


Storyline: 9.5/10
I love a good story in my video games, and LostWinds certainly didn't disappoint in this category. The story of the twelve spirits creating the world and Balasar's betrayal is certainly a creative tale.

Gameplay: 8.5/10
LostWinds takes a unique idea and pulls it off very, very well. The controls are amazing, and I often found myself lifting Toku in the air with Enril's powers just for the heck of it. The puzzles are really easy on the most part, though, making the game a breeze in more ways than one.

Graphics: 10/10
Really, LostWinds is an amazingly beautiful game. From the tree leaves to the shrubs, it's all so very lively and colourful. Even the dank caves have a lively look to them. LostWinds certainly outdoes a lot of the games released on both WiiWare and on store shelves. If only all developers cared as much about how their product looked...

Audio: 9.5/10
Every time I hear that theme start up when I start up LostWinds, I just get so sucked in. I don't know what it is about that melody, but something about it is just so calming and adventurous at the same time. The sounds of the enemies and villagers are also really nice, making the world of Mistralis feel even more alive.

Longevity: 7.75/10
No matter how justified it may be, LostWinds is still a short game, clocking in at about three or so hours from start to finish. A little more playtime can be squeezed out by collecting all the golden statues scattered about, but that's the kind of thing that gets boring after the first time. Still, three hours is pretty decent for a downloaded game.

OVERALL: 9.25/10
LostWinds deserves to be downloaded by anyone with cash, a Wii and an internet connection. Seriously, if you don't have this yet, find a way to get it and make it so. LostWinds, though short, is still an amazing experience, and everyone needs to live it. Definitely worth the meager 1000 Wii Points.

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