I’m going to be honest with everyone here. Even after my first hands-on experience with LostWinds, the debut release from developer Frontier and one of the first releases for the WiiWare service, I just wasn’t that interested. Call me hardcore, or just plain hardheaded, the game’s bizarre artistic-look and slow moving gameplay that seemed to force Wiimote waggle onto my platform-loving, button-mashing heart just didn’t thrill me the way it did other editors here at the office. But at their insistence and looking past my own reluctance, I gave the strange-looking 2/3D hybrid another chance…and thank goodness for that.
Whatever LostWinds lacks in intensity is more than made up for in style, control innovation, and most of all easily demonstrating how the downloadable service (and Wii games in general) can be properly utilized with a bit of effort involved.
The game’s plot involves the adventurous child named Toku, who conveniently stumbles upon a wind spirit named Enril that, keeping with gaming convention, aids our young hero upon his journey. From herein Toku’s destiny revolves around saying his beloved island from a great evil known only as Balasar, a considerable bad guy bent on plunging the island into a powerful darkness. Simple enough, the straightforward plot keeps things moving with its stylized back-story and simple in-game dialogue between the various characters when needed. Nothing revolutionary, but let’s assume that the WiiWare’s low-memory limitations keep things simple and we can all be grateful for the lack of melodramatic bombast.
The general layout has an unmistakable mix of 2D where environments make use of simple platformer elements; the nunchuk provides simple left and right movement for Toku with automatic jumping or climbing between ledges along with simple interactions between people and objects with the Z-button, beyond those fundamentals the use of the Remote is the real backbone of this game. Wind is the primary helper by just pointing your remote at the screen you’ll be able to make use of wind gusts that can blow objects and enemies away, even abilities like jumping will require you to hold the A-button and make a straight line that blows Toku in the intended direction with stronger wind gusts. Soon other wind abilities will be found in the quest such as forming slipstreams to solve puzzles and create pattern, and a useful vortex technique against enemies; thankfully, nothing within this game is never too complicated to figure out and wisely exploits the advantages of the Wii’s motion control to a great extent.
Although the game moves along in beautifully simple 3D, the general layout has its unmistakable roots well within the 2D platforming world. The Nunchuk controller provides simple left/right movement for Toku, with automatic jumping and climbing between ledges, as well as simple interactions between people and objects via the Z-button. Beyond those fundamentals, its the Wiimote that provides the real backbone of gameplay here. Wind itself is the primary element, and its at your disposal by simply pointing the Wiimote at the screen to create gusts that can blow objects and enemies away. Abilities such as timed-jumping require holding the A-button and literally drawing which direction you want to hop, which naturally makes double/triple jumping a bit more complex and complicated than I’d like. The same method can be used to forming slipstreams to solve puzzles and create patterns (including a very NiGHTS-like vortex), to even controlling the various background interactions. Those familiar with the DS Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass will find this familiar territory, but for a full-console release its really done well and adds to the gameplay.
It’s worth noting that on occasion the controls felt less responsive than they could have been, which is something I think the developers took into account. Pressing and holding the A-button gives less-capable players a real advantage as this slows the game down…a real help in some of the trickier parts, and another innovation that seems to intuitive, I’m going to miss having it with other games. These gripes, like the game itself, are relatively small and never deal breakers.
Aesthetically, the game is gorgeous. Maybe not in the same way the latest HD-equipped, realistic texture-mapped sensation is, but rarely have I seen a game have such a sense of beauty and confident style as LostWinds – downloadable or not. With full 16:9 widescreen, 480p native support, the whole presentation is extremely atmospheric, with 3D backdrops that help create a fully vibrant, living world complete with lush valleys and deep caverns that just invite exploration. The looks is simple, yet appreciated to look natural and appropriate to the gameplay. Likewise is the game’s audio, which some feared would bear the brunt of WiiWare’s relatively small storage capabilities. Ambiance is key, as chirping birds and the soothing sounds of gentle streams flow against the ever-present woodwind soundtrack that accompanies the game with the greatest care. It’s all remarkably good stuff, and a fantastic way to show developers just what’s possible on Nintendo’s downloadable service.
As if you couldn’t tell by now, I was really impressed with the quality and effectiveness of Frontier’s LostWinds, painfully brief it was. The game’s smart gameplay mechanics, polished audio/video presentation, and best of all tightly-utilized motion controls have made me a believer that WiiWare isn’t just capable of delivering a good experience; it’s ready to deliver a superior one. Although the end result may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no denying that if independent developers can continue to live up to the promises displayed here, we’re all in for a treat. One of the very best adventures of the year, and when factoring in the low entry fee, a revolution unto itself. Highly recommended.