Review by Tachibana Ukyo

Reviewed: 06/23/03 | Updated: 06/24/04

Winds of Thunder

This is the story of a forgotten Genesis game, one of the many that are even now languishing in the eighth circle of bargain hell that is your local Gamestop. It’s just another overlooked title forlornly peeking out from beneath the sea of grimy black cartridges and affixed with a gooey price tag branding it as a mere 79 cents. A curious shopper will likely pass over this aging piece of plastic and its plain red sticker (the case and manual having long since been discarded), allowing it plenty of time to contemplate its sorry existence and collect dust.

This theoretical customer will have unknowingly turned down the incredibly moody, painfully stylish monochrome opening cinema that slowly unfolds to begin our tale. Enter the world of New York, 1928 – a city that stands unknowingly gripped by the machinations of a sinister religious society. Their leader, aided in his efforts by the underworld of organized crime, ultimately seeks to recall the dark god Hastur from his prison in the outer planes. And once Hastur is free, humanity will soon realize the sheer destructive force of Tornado – the deadly influence of the wind, “El Viento.”

Such a person will also miss out on the beautiful moment in which our protagonist makes her dramatic appearance, the moment one suddenly realizes that the ill treatment of this cart is in fact SACRILEGE!

Clad all in white, the lovely Annet blazes onto the screen! A Peruvian teenage girl born of the same bloodline as Hastur and drawn in the vein of Japanese anime, our green-haired heroine dashes about the faded streets of New York trouncing hoods with her soaring steel boomerangs and powerful magic spells. Take a moment to soak in the game’s smooth little touches; Annet’s trailing hair ribbons blow gently at her waist in the passing breeze as she stands idle, only to flutter madly above her head every time she leaps high into the air with arms raised to the sky. As one races though the streets decking gun-toting gangsters left and right, the arresting animation of our heroine’s vivid turns and the graceful delivery of her boomerang blows may land you in a bit of trouble; remember to keep your eyes fixed on the many enemies that you’re supposed to be paying attention to. That’s right – we can’t ignore the aforementioned trenchcoated goons, the motorcycling baddies, and the mobster cars that screech to a halt from within the background looking to fire upon us with blazing Thompson machine guns until a few of Annet’s fireballs engulf them in massive explosions of vividly colored and pyrotechnic pixels.

BOOM.

But mere aesthetics, however evocative, can not hope to carry a game on their own. Fortunately the controls are spot on, providing Annet with consistently responsive movements and precise, fluid leaping (including the ability to change direction in mid-jump) as she tackles the many pitfalls and hazards that await on the road ahead. With simple presses of the buttons she can also tear across a short distance at breakneck speed or charge her various offensive spells even in midair, which will definitely come in handy. For in capturing the essence of what an action platformer should be, developer Wolf Team stocks this adventure full of long and winding stages that take us on an incredibly convoluted journey across the world. Climb the awnings of the city’s buildings, briefly slipping through their interiors while navigating the many rooftops, and Anett will soon enough find herself far into the countryside, bouncing from platform to speedily moving platform amidst a picturesque valley. That’s right before we send her scuffling across rapidly disintegrating bridges situated over yawning beds of spikes – only to take on her older half-sister Restiana in a desperate magical duel atop a tower of these same delicate footings. Watch as entire rows of the fragile wood begin smashing into pieces with each missed shot until the opposing siblings finally touch the ground!

All this as Motoi Sakuraba’s masterful compositions blast forth from your speakers, setting a highly energetic and infectious pace with their pumping drums, clapping castanets, and plenty of wailing from the chords of the Genesis Guitar. Yet Sakuraba’s score will also curb its frantic tempo for calming piano pieces or grungy tunes of menace during the captivating cinematic interludes that offer short glimpses into the exceptional story as it develops. Yes, we’re introduced to a slew of memorable and mysterious persons of dubious character: slithery mastermind Henry and his sinister schemes for poor, misguided Restiana; Annet’s guardian, the intrepid explorer and heroic tomb raider Earnest Evans; and even the unfathomable Zigfried, an eminently fashionable silver-haired rogue who seems to know more than he’s letting on about Hastur and the cult.

The scope of Wolf Team’s platforming joy only mounts in later levels, the immense orange explosions racking up across the ever diverse procession of foes that fall to Annet’s sorerous might. With what shall she blast them into oblivion, you ask? Why, with her ground-hugging crashes of water, slicing gusts of vacuum waves and relentless streams of homing needles, of course. Whether enjoying a harrying ocean cruise atop a dolphin’s back as numerous bombs hit the foreground with tremendous splashes, braving the conveyer belts and dangerous machinery of a Detroit factory, or attacking the towering power core of a gunnery-filled airship, if you’re not hooked by the time of the epic confrontation high atop the spires of the Empire State Building then you have surely mislaid your enthusiasm for 2D Blast Processing goodness somewhere along the way.

The Conclusion!!!

El Viento is a truly excellent platformer laden with unique style, magnificently illustrated storytelling, tight control, aural delight, and an unforgettable ending. (What a surprise!) But perhaps you don’t believe me? See for yourself. Go right ahead – try not to care about the characters. Attempt to ignore the blissful gameplay. Snicker at the terrible American cover art, even. Go on; a neglected El Viento cart is still lying around somewhere – unused and alone – silently waiting for a new owner. Isn’t it about time you plucked it from the depths of obscurity?

Annet will never forgive you if you don’t.


Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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