Inside Pulse 12

Review: LostWinds (Nintendo Wii)

No box, so no official boxart.
LostWinds
Genre: Platformer/Adventure
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Release Date: 05/12/2008


When WiiWare was first announced I don’t think people were expecting much from the service given Nintendo’s Internet phobia and the Wii’s internal memory limitations. Nintendo’s own middling offerings for the service like Dr. Mario and Pokemon Ranch seemed to signal WiiWare would mainly be home to visually simple puzzle games and shallow casual curiosities. Given this, people were more than a little surprised when Nintendo revealed LostWinds, a game by British 3rd party Frontier Developments. The game was a polished looking, beautiful, full-featured action-adventure, how the heck could it be a WiiWare title? Surely there was something we didn’t know; it couldn’t be as promising as it appeared. So, is LostWinds a letdown or is it proof of WiiWare’s potential? Let’s find out…

1) Story

LostWinds presents a very Zelda-esque storyline (the fact this game borrows a lot from the Zelda series, specifically Wind Waker, will be a bit of a theme in this review). You know the drill, silent unassuming child is sent off by a wise old coot to collect the means to defeat some evil entity sealed away ages ago (someday folks in RPGs and action-adventures should realize sealing away evil forces only makes them madder) and he’s helped in his quest by a chatty fairy, imp, talking boat or in this case, wind spirit. So yeah, it’s familiar, but it’s well told with nicely executed picture-book style art in some cutscenes and an economy of words. This is a game that knows when to get the story out of the way and just let you play.

Story Rating: Enjoyable

2) Graphics

This is one heck of a purdy game. When I first loaded up LostWinds I had my eagle eye on the lookout for clues to how such a good-looking game could be done on WiiWare. Surely the videos and screenshots hadn’t told the whole story. Blurry textures and lack of polygons must be more obvious on a full-sized TV I thought, or maybe outside of a few pretty areas most of the game takes place in Snowstorm Land with your character running around against a plain white background. Turns out I was wrong to doubt, as this game looks great from beginning to end with no obvious technical shortcomings.

So pretty I want to marry it.

The game’s art style is clearly inspired by Wind Waker and in my opinion actually one-ups Nintendo’s big-budget game. Wind Waker certainly had its amazing visual moments, but often the style was overdone and much of the environment (like the big blue sheet ocean) was rather bland. LostWinds by comparison is more subtle in it’s style and it’s world’s are lush, warm and detailed. Oh, and the main character is as adorable as a sack full of kittens and babies.

Graphics Rating: Great

3) Sound

The music in this game has a very soothing Japanese vibe to it, which is kind of odd since the game was developed in England, but whatever, it perfectly suits the game. The sound effects are also right on, with every little thing you can use your wind powers on having it’s own distinct rustle or noise. There’s no voice acting, but I didn’t expect lengthy voice-acted conversations in a 43 MB downloadable game anyways.

Sound Rating: Good

4) Control and Gameplay

LostWinds lifts its basic concept from Wind Waker (I told you’d it was a theme), but I’m going to risk fanboy rage here and say LostWinds actually does the concept right. Controlling the wind in Nintendo’s game was a somewhat clunky process, while it’s simple and intuitive in LostWinds.

You control main character Toku with the nunchuck and wind spirit Enril with the Wiimote. Toku can’t do much on his own, you can make him run around with the analog stick, he’ll climb up on small ledges automatically and he’ll pick up small items with a push of the Z-button, the rest of the actions rely on the Wiimote IR pointer. Enril is represented by a stylized icon onscreen, which you use to draw directional paths that control the wind. Hold down the A-button and swipe the icon over Toku or objects like boulders and you can blow them around, lifting and maneuvering them as you please. Later in the game you will gain the Slipstream ability which lets you to hold down B and draw more specific paths for the wind to follow (allowing you to direct fire around corners for instance) as well as the cyclone ability which let’s you supercharge boulders or other items and throw them through barriers.

Forget Indiana Jones, hang out in this temple instead.

It takes a few minutes to get used to the fact that basic actions like jumping require swiping at Toku with the IR pointer instead of simply pushing a button, but it quickly becomes second nature. The only control issue I ever had is that you toss around Toku and boulders or other items using the same method which sometimes causes you to toss a boulder when you only wanted to move Toku and vice-versa. That’s a very minor gripe though.

The unique game mechanics are used to great effect as nearly every inch of the game’s admittedly small world is packed with ledges to climb, areas to explore and puzzles to solve. The game uses the classic Metroid technique whereby you’ll be teased by areas you can’t quite access early in the game yet will revisit when you’ve gained new abilities. It’s satisfying exploring and opening up every nook, cranny and crevice in the game and the small size of the world arguably works in the title’s favor as you’ll rarely find yourself lost or frustrated for any length of time and backtracking never feels like a drag when you can get anywhere within a couple minutes.

The puzzles are well crafted and will get your synapses firing, but also don’t go overboard. Adding too many steps and complex requirements to the puzzles could have caused annoyance given the game’s unique controls (for instance, as already mentioned moving boulders around can be slightly annoying, but the game is smart enough not too force you to move them too far). LostWinds is ultimately a relaxing, yet engrossing light action-adventure experience.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Classic

5) Replayability

So yeah, as you may be picking up by this point in the review, I like this game a lot. I adore it like a racecar made of candy, which makes its brevity all the more painful. This game is short, real short…3 to 5 hours depending on your experience with the action-adventure genre (as a veteran of tons of “Ëœem it took me around 3 ½ hours). There’s also a little totem collecting side quest, but don’t expect that to add much more than an extra half-hour to the game.

Now if this was a full-price 49.99 retail game I’d really take the piss out of it for it’s paltry length, but while Frontier Developments hasn’t explicitly said so, they’re basically taking the episodic gaming approach to this series. They’ve already announced a LostWinds 2 and, not to give too much away, but even after beating the game you won’t have seen the whole story. So while as a retail game LostWinds would fall far short, as a 10-dollar episodic game it’s right in line with what others are doing. For instance Sam and Max, the most successful episodic gaming series right now, regularly turn in episodes even shorter than LostWinds. I won’t bullshit you, I definitely would have liked the game to be longer, but the low price and episodic nature of the game eases the pain.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6) Balance

This game is not particularly taxing. The enemies pose little threat and once I mastered slowing my fall by waving the cursor over my character most of the damage I took came from accidentally dropping boulders on my own head. You’ll pretty much always have 2 or 3 lives in stock so it’s not only possible but likely you’ll never find yourself in any sort of Game Over situation.

But this game isn’t meant to be a punishing test of thumb endurance; the challenge here is based on exploration and puzzle solving. This game will get you thinking, the challenge ramping up at a nice gentle rate, although admittedly it never becomes too baffling. The litmus test when it comes to balance in my opinion is whether the game ever becomes frustrating due to either excessive ease or difficulty. Even though LostWinds could be described as easy, it never felt frustrating or patronizing so I can’t knock it.

Balance Rating: Good

7) Originality

So while neither the setting, story or notion of an action-adventure game where you control the wind are terribly original, the actual way you go about controlling the wind is. LostWinds successfully concocts a new use of the Wiimote and really maximizes its unique mechanics with a succession of clever challenges. The game definitely feels fresh.

Originality Rating: Good

8) Addictiveness

A lot of people are going to beat this game in one sitting. I didn’t because, well, I’m insane and feel like I’m getting a better value the more days it takes me to beat a game (even if I’m just spreading the same number of hours over more days) but it was definitely difficult putting the controller down that first day. This game will charm you right from its first minutes and leave you a sweaty withdrawal afflicted mess when it comes to its too-soon conclusion.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9) Appeal Factor

A lot of developers don’t know the difference between charming and cute. Cute is for little girls and your mom, charming is good for everyone, even living testosterone factories like me. This game has charm in spades. Kids will love it, but a guy in his 20s could feel comfortable playing it too without fear that his buddies will question his sexuality (at least not more than usual). If you can play this game and not be charmed then you’re a big stupidhead and I don’t want to be your friend, so there.

Oooo, fiiiiire.

Now of course this game doesn’t have a big franchise name attached to it, it hasn’t received any advertising and it’s only available on WiiWare, which is something a large portion of Wii owners probably don’t even realize they have access to. This game has a lot going against it, but it’s picking up great word of mouth on the Internet and I think anyone who actually checks out a few videos of it will be intrigued, and if they actually get to play it they’ll be hooked. I predict LostWinds and it’s sequels will be one of the bigger successes for WiiWare and if you don’t agree you’re a big stupidhead and I don’t want to be your friend, so there.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

10) Miscellaneous

Who knew that it wouldn’t be Nintendo itself that would show everyone how to do WiiWare right? While the Big N’s announced titles look rather uninspiring, Frontier Developments have proven that WiiWare can be used to deliver a unique, fun, charming full action-adventure experience. If other developers take a cue from LostWinds then the WiiWare could be something special.

Miscellaneous Rating: Classic

The Scores
Story/Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Great
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Below Average
Balance: Good
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Classic

Final Score: Very Good Game

Short Attention Span Summary

LostWinds is simply one of the best experiences I’ve had on the Wii, perhaps only bested in terms of pure fun and satisfaction by Mario Galaxy. Yes it’s short, but it also only costs a 5th as much as most games of its quality on the system, so it’s hard to complain. If you’ve got your Wii connected to the Internet and have the means to so I can’t recommend you download this little gem highly enough.