Frontier's WiiWare launch title is fantastic. However, there's something you should know about it...
As one of the launch titles for WiiWare, LostWinds is venturing out into unknown territory. With no existing games against which to compare its title, Frontier may have felt like it had to take a shot in the dark when prepping to release its ambitious little game on Nintendo's new download service.
Thankfully for all of us, LostWinds hits its mark. The gameplay is fresh and novel, the game is beautiful, and most importantly it's a great deal of fun. It's a fantastic game in just about every aspect ... except for one crucial element. But I'll get to that later.
The concept of LostWinds is to use the Wii Remote pointer to “draw” wind currents on-screen to create wind gusts that aid our hero Toku. These gusts help him climb up ledges, move around obstacles, and sometimes break his fall. They also play a crucial role in puzzle-solving. Moving boulders around and directing streams of water and fire are important tricks to master if you want to progress through the game's areas, which feature progressively more complex puzzles to tackle.
Manipulating the wind is very easy to do. There's no need to quickly draw out wind gusts, so if you have bad aim with the Wii Remote you can methodically trace out straight lines or curves and you’ll get the full force of wind along your path. You can slow down the action dramatically by holding down the A Button, during which time you'll have ample opportunity to create your wind path. This is also handy when dealing with enemies, who can be defeated by smashing them against the ground with wind forces or blowing them off of the screen.
The controls have a learning curve, but it's mostly because there haven't many games before LostWinds that lets you indirectly control your main character in this fashion. Once you get the upgrades that allow you to perform multiple wind gusts in one go (and literally fly wherever you want for a limited period of time, which is pure awesome), the controls will feel so natural and comfortable that you’ll wish you could do the same stuff in Super Mario Galaxy.
Here's some direct-feed footage of LostWinds in action.
Speaking of Galaxy, it's got company when it comes to looks. LostWinds is an absolutely gorgeous game. When you first walk into the central hub town and witness the pink-leaved trees, lazy windmills, and the softness of the landscape in the distance you’ll pause in respect. Everything above ground is lush and colorful. Though the color pallet changes to dark and muted when you venture underground, the details still remain in the background. In the mines, for example, the background suggests that they have no end in sight, yet you can clearly see old mine carts and other objects in the distance.
The star of the show is the game world itself. Although you're technically in control of Toku, most of your attention will be on the Wii Remote pointer cursor, also known as the wind spirit Enril. Passing the cursor over any object in the game world will cause it to react as if it were blown by the wind. If you streak the cursor across a tree, for example, the tree's branches will be pushed back in the direction of the wind gust and leaves will be blown off of it. Everything you do is reflected in the game world in some way, so there's never a dull moment. Because you're in control of this and will always see it happen, it feels as if the world you're playing in is alive.
This feeling makes LostWinds a fun and relaxing game to play. It's got some challenging bits in it too, so don’t assume it’s going to be a total a walk in the park. However, there is one nagging issue I have about the game that I just can't seem to get out of my mind; one that I feel blunts the game's enjoyment factor somewhat.
The intro to LostWinds sets up a grand story about the land of Mistralis, the evil spirit Balasar, and how Toku and Enril must work together to prevent him from taking over the world. The game progresses not unlike other platformers, in which the initial areas are something of a tutorial and the the difficulty slowly ramps up as you become more familiar with the game. After two or three hours of gameplay, you meet the first boss. Once you defeat him, you're given more insight into things with a continuation of the story. Just as it appears the game will move on to the next area, it abruptly tells you “To Be Continued...” and you're left with no more game to play, even with plenty of story left to go.
The beef I have with LostWinds is that I personally feel a little misled regarding the content of the game. It's not because three (extremely enjoyable) hours out of a WiiWare game is necessarily a bad thing (there's nothing to compare it to yet), but because there was every indication from the start that the game housed a full adventure, and not just what looks to be one chapter of a larger story. This is especially true since Frontier has announced a LostWinds “sequel,” further implying the first game was a complete work. This is far from the case. I wouldn't be as critical if the game were entitled “LostWinds: Episode One” or something to that effect, because then I would have known what I was getting into before I started. However, not knowing about it until the abrupt end of the game makes me feel if I was hit with the ol' switcheroo.
To be fair, this WiiWare thing is still new to everyone, including me. I probably should have expected to see a game of about this length given the size and price of the download. Then again, LostWinds looks and plays so much like a top-flight standard Wii game that getting only three hours out of it feels like disappointment, because I want to play more of it. A lot more of it.
The bottom line on LostWinds is that it's a marvelous little game which everyone should play, but with the caveat that it ends abruptly and will have you passionately craving more when it’s done. That such a grand game could be packed into Nintendo's draconian file size restriction might even be considered a technical marvel, all things considered. LostWinds is the perfect game to kick off the dawn of WiiWare, and considering what it brings to the table it's great to imagine the possibilities – not only for the next games in Frontier's series, but for future WiiWare games as well.