Background info: So, you might have heard of this thing called WiiWare. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s one of Nintendo Wii’s online channels. Specifically, it’s the place where gamers can download small, newly developed games like Defend Your Castle and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King onto their Wiis. Each game costs about five to 10 dollars, give or take a few, and you can download until you fill up your Wii’s hard drive. I decided to see what the fuss was about, and downloaded the game LostWinds. This is my review.
A Breath of Fresh Air
When it came out, the Wii pulled in an entirely new kind of gamer. Grandparents played beside their grandkids. Couch potatoes learned how to balance precariously on a fitness board. Fishing in Zelda was actually fun, for once. But some “hardcore” gamers preferred the old days of gaming with a Nintendo system, when controllers were square, games actually had stories, and we didn’t have to share our console with our parents. Nintendo seems to have gotten in on this whole “socializing” thing, which involves “interaction with others” and “less plot, more play.” This can be fun, but it’s also like trying to survive on a diet consisting solely of sweets; unless you’re L, it just doesn’t pan out. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see some of the WiiWare developers taking matters into their own hands by creating games with a plot.
LostWinds is one of these little gems. Developed by Frontier, LostWinds is the story of Toku, a young, adventurous lad, and Enril, a powerful wind spirit. The two team up to explore the area around Toku’s village, looking for spells to unlock Enril’s sealed powers and save the world from the dire clutches of Balasar.
Sounds cliché? Well, maybe it is, but the game makes up for it in other ways. First off, it’s one of the few WiiWare games (or even Wii games!) to make full use of the graphic capabilities available to the Wii. The setting of the game is rich in detail, texture, and depth, creating a stunning, somewhat cutesy world. The music itself isn’t too shabby—a little repetitive, perhaps, but it’s so mellow that it literally fades into the background; pleasant when you’re wandering around, and dramatically drummed when you’re in the heat of battle.
Another thing Frontier got right: the gameplay. Like most other Wii games, it’s easy enough to figure out. A flick of the wrist, a few pushes of a button, and your thumb on the joystick will get you where you need to go. Similar to the ink brush techniques in Okami, you learn specific movements (powers for Enril) that will allow you to move objects, destroy enemies, and fly to great heights. This game is what Okami for the Wii should have been.
Actually, truth be told, this game does seem to draw heavily on Okami. The storyline (or what we can guess of it) follows a similar “let’s relearn all those old spells I had in a past life to defeat the enemy I almost destroyed a long time ago” plot line, and some of the character design is reminiscent of what the Okami people would look like, were they not done in sumi style. The best way to describe this game would be the Zelda crew remaking Okami.
That’s not really a bad thing; I love both games, so this was a delightful breath of fresh air after all those party games Nintendo has been giving us. I only had two problems with it that would make me hesitate recommending it to someone. First, the gameplay is very, very easy, and slightly repetitive. This might be a good transition for young gamers who haven’t played Zelda but want a puzzle game that doesn’t involve plumbers. I would also highly recommend this to any male gamers with girlfriends who don’t understand the appeal of RPGs or Zelda games—guys, they’ll probably like this game a lot, because it’s cute, pretty, and fun.
The second thing that bugged me about this game was that it really was a breeze. I’m one of those gamers who tries to get the best equipment and do all the sidequests and basically get the most out of a game that I can. I beat this game in less than three hours. Considering it actually had a playability factor of over half an hour and an actual plot, I can’t really complain. And the end of the game basically comes out and says that the two characters have many more adventures to go on before their journey is over, so it’s a good preview of the good things yet to come. But $10 is a steep price to pay for an OK demo game. Perhaps, if and when Frontier comes out with the full game, they’ll allow gamers who downloaded the demo a $10 price cut. I think that’s the only way I would actually consider buying this game at “full” price. (Unless, of course, you’re that boyfriend with the recalcitrant girlfriend. Even then, it might be better to get the full game.)
LostWinds is cute and refreshingly different than Nintendo’s party games, and it promises to be even more fun at an unforeseen point in time. It’s a breeze to play, but fun, so this could be just the thing to give you a breather from all those other games while we wait for better things to come.