Review by MTLH

"Flawed but utterly charming."

Early 2008 Nintendo started selling WiiWare games trough the Wii Shop Channel. What sets these apart from the usual Virtual Console fare is that they aren't retro titles but actually new games. This service is intended to allow developers to release games that would otherwise require too much risk to receive a boxed release. The main restriction lies with size, these titles are apparently limited to about 40 MB.

One of the launch titles was LostWinds, developed by Frontier Developments. It looked like a breath of fresh air and garnered rather positive reviews, and the most appealing of the first batch. Was this a correct assumption? Let's find out.

GRAPHICS
LostWinds looks stunning. Rolling hillsides, blossom flowing in the wind, quaint windmills and little streams all come together perfectly. Strictly speaking, the game doesn't actually feature that much variation. The environments can be divided in towns, mountainous regions and underground caverns. Even so, these are mixed in a perfect manner and the whole is completed by little details like a small cottage on that hill in the background or a dead tree instead of a fully blossoming one or... You get the picture. Animation is also splendidly done, both on the lead character Toku as on his enemies. The way fire is portrayed also deserves a special mention.

Are there no negative things to say about the visuals then? Not really. Where this to be a boxed game sold at full price, the visuals would still be very pretty but quite lacking when compared to, say, Super Mario Galaxy or Twillight Princess. The graphics of those games simply have much more depth. But such a comparison would be unfair. Those games don't face the restrictions WiiWare games do. As such, Frontier Developments is to be praised in how they handled said limitations and even managed to make them work in the game's favour.

SOUND
LostWinds features a beautiful, understated soundtrack consisting mainly of flutes. Together with other background sounds like chirping birds and the flowing wind, this game sounds appropriately serene. Sound effects are good too, from the rustling sound of the burning torches to the happy but ominous yells of the hostile blobs that serve as Toku's main enemies. When it comes this game's audio, no faults or flaws can be discovered.

GAMEPLAY
LostWinds tells the story of how the aforementioned Toku, aided by a wind spirit named Enril, tries to save his homeland from an evil spirit called Balasar. Although Toku is the lead character, it is Enril that actually has the most important role. He acts as a kind of cursor through which the player can manipulate the wind. It is this aspect that forms the strong beating heart of LostWinds.

But lets start with the basics. LostWinds looks at first glance like a sort of sidescrolling platformer. Toku can move both left and right and he will automatically climb on any short ledges he encounters. He has however no weapons of his own and his jumping skills also leave a lot to be desired. This is where Enril and his wind controlling powers come in. By manipulating the wind, Toku can literally fly through the air, enemies can be vanquished and flames can be directed from torch to torch (or enemy or wooden door).

Toku can be moved trough the analog stick with Enril being controlled with the remote. With the remote the player can draw the flow of the wind and create circle around objects to hold them in their place, for example. It works brilliantly as long as the different gestures are done in a exaggerated fashion. Drawing a circle for example can not really be done with simply a flick of the wrist. Not a true flaw and something that is easy to get used to but a bit more precision would have been nice.

Those all add up to an experience that can best be described as a cross between the Legend of Zelda and Metroid. This shows in the way the game relies on puzzles, exploration and using newfound abilities to conquer formerly impassable obstacles. In the course of the game, Enril will receive several wind controlling skills that open up new areas to investigate. It has to be mentioned however that the exploration element isn't as prevalent as in the titles mentioned above. Of course LostWinds allows for some exploration but Toku is generally directed where to go next. When confronted by an insurmountable obstacle, there is no need to dwell too long because eventually Enril will receive a new skill and Toku will be send to remove that obstacle and explore the area behind it. In this manner he will travel to all the corners of his world.

When it comes to the puzzles, LostWinds makes clever use of the wind-based skills. Enril gains most of those skills in the first part of the game after which he and Toku must find four chests, which leads to some interesting and mildly challenging puzzles. These involve levers, trapdoors, directing the flow of fire to burn down wooden doors and by planting several seeds which grow for example into a kind of hovering flower. It is in these sections that LostWinds is at it's best.

There is also some combat involved. LostWinds features several types of blobs, each of which requires a different tactic to defeat. The basic ones are easily crushed by diverting some wind at them while the armoured blobs must first be smashed into the ground. While the blobs initially offer little in the way of resistance, in the later parts of the game they will become more powerful and plentiful. Although the combat works well enough, it feels a little out of place. LostWinds is above all a serene and soothing game that let's the player wander around at their own pace. Being jumped by enemies simply doesn't seem right in that atmosphere. Especially later in the game, fighting the blobs becomes a hindrance to what should really be the core of LostWinds: exploring the areas to solve the puzzles.

LostWinds is a short game, lasting about three hours. Being a WiiWare game, with the size limitations that entails, goes a long way explaining this rather short duration. Even so, three hours seems a little measly although the small price tag of ten euros alleviates this problem somewhat.

The structure of the game seems to suffer because of the short length. LostWinds begins with Toku and Enril seeking out new skills for Enril to use. After this, the pair must seek out the four chests that contain the memories of Deo, a spirit tasked with the protection of Toku's homeland. During their journey more and more locations become available with the challenges encountered increasing in both complexity and difficulty. And then comes the moment that only two chests remain. It is at that particular moment that the game's structure falters. Both objects are easily reached, one of these doesn't even require the solving of a single puzzle. The other does have some but these are much simpler in execution then what came before. The game ends on a high note thankfully, with a rather smartly done boss battle. Even though combat in general feels somewhat intrusive, this sequence works really well and gives a great sense of closure for this particular instalment. The main point is however that LostWinds feels a bit rushed. It is as if the developers had some great ideas for the last part of the game but where running out of time or became suddenly aware of the size limitation. Given those limitations, it would have been better to just get rid of one of the last two chests and create a more fulfilling sequence with just the remaining one. Or was it such a problem to simply add an extra fifteen minutes of gameplay to the game?

One last thing that must be mentioned are the bugs. Unfortunately, LostWinds seems to be infested by a few, some of which even prevent the player from completing the game. The only bug I encountered was when Toku got stuck against a wall for no reason, necessitating quitting the game and starting again from the last savepoint. Even so, the other faults are well documented. Bugs are something I have reluctantly come to expect from a PC title, not from one released on a console. Keeping in mind how polished LostWinds seems to be with regard to the presentation and gameplay, the existence of these bugs seems somewhat strange.

FINAL REMARKS
LostWinds combines a beautiful presentation with some imaginative and fulfilling gameplay to form a soothing and fun little game. On the downside, it is also quite short, with a duration of perhaps a little over three hours. The structure seems to suffer due because of this with the last part of the game feeling a bit rushed. Furthermore, the combat feels forced and slightly intrusive. LostWinds at it's heart is a game about exploration and puzzles. Fighting leaf covered blobs seems out of place somehow. The bugs are as always unwanted guests that have no place in any game, let alone in one released for a console.

Despite the mentioned shortcomings LostWinds does come highly recommended. The gameplay feels fresh and it looks and sounds great. So LostWinds has a few problems, what does it really matter when the actual game itself is very good. It amply compensates for the flaws mentioned. If the announced sequel remedies a few of the flaws mentioned, it could be the classic this game should have been.

OVERALL: Let's be lenient and make it a 8.0.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/06/08

Game Release: LostWinds (EU, 05/20/08)


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