It’s so easy to take for granted. The wind, I mean. Science explains it as the reaction to pressure between two adjacent air masses. Nothing more, nothing less. But for the folks that have a bit more imagination within their grasp, the wind can be mysterious and otherworldly. You can’t see it, but its presence is all too clear. It could be that slight breeze tickling the back of your neck in the early morning. Or maybe it’s that sudden burst of air that sends you a face-full of raindrops during a storm. Perhaps it’s that refreshing gust of coolness you might get during a heat wave, or that icy, biting winter gale that makes your scarf flap in every direction. It is what brings hurricanes and tornadoes onto our doorsteps, one of the subtler forces behind the shaping of landforms, the basis for intercontinental transportation… Its influences are too many to list. With the advent of LostWinds, the power of the wind has been taken in an entirely different direction:
Sounds kind of weird, doesn’t it? But once you get acquainted with the game’s protagonist, you’ll realize why it makes so much sense. Toku isn’t some mustachioed plumber, a Mega Man, or any of those other heroes most would associate with this genre. He’s just some kid – only a few years beyond a toddler, really – that happened to be at the right place at the right time. There’s nothing interesting about this little guy; he’s still prone to afternoon naps and doing chores for the village elders. He’s overshadowed by his partner Enril, the Wind Spirit that spends the game trying to save their homeland of Mistralis from utter destruction. There’s a slightly convoluted backstory involving ancient seals, a bunch of Elemental Spirits, and some generically evil sorcerer guy, but you won’t need to worry about any of that. The only thing you need to know is that Toku and Enril have to explore Mistralis, track down the other Elemental Spirits, and somehow save the day.
It’s kind of pathetic, really. What kind of mystical Wind Spirit has to rely on a little kid to get the job done? It’s understandable, given the design of Mistralis. The island is made of a series of interconnected passageways and tunnels (a watered-down version of Metroid‘s Zebes comes to mind), all of which are crammed with ledges, barriers, and enemies to get through. Since many of these obstacles require the human touch, Enril has no choice but to drag Toku along with her. There’s nothing mind-numbingly difficult or original about these little hindrances; it could involve pushing a rock onto a panel to open a door, or talking to the appropriate human NPC to get some hints. But while Toku handles the direct work, it’s Enril that provides the strength of the team. You can channel her wind powers via the WiiMote to draw air currents onscreen. It’ll usually involve guiding flames onto a nearby structure, blasting enemies offscreen, or turning windmills and other objects. Combined with the nice assortment of abilities you’ll collect throughout the game, you’ll be more than ready to tackle whatever ridiculously easy challenges the game throws at you.
More importantly, however, Enril’s wind powers provide the basis for all the platforming you’ll be doing. Toku is a child; he can’t even jump, let alone get a running start. When you’re faced with some nigh unreachable ledge or a massive chasm to cross, you’d better have a firm grip on the controller. Drawing with the WiiMote isn’t difficult; you just point at the screen, hold down the right button, and draw in the right direction. You could create a few updrafts to help Toku jump onto a high platform, thrust him sideways in mid-jump, or even provide an air cushion should he accidentally fall. The controls are tuned well enough that there shouldn’t be much in the way of mistakes. However, it won’t take long before your arm muscles start cramping up from all of the quick, jerky motions you’ll inevitably make. Or if you have to carefully summon some lengthy stream of air, only to discover that it slightly missed its target and that you’ll have to go through the arduous drawing process from scratch. While the controls were designed for simplicity, actually using them can prove painful after a while.
Besides, it’s not like you’ll need to be overly accurate anyway. The game is ridiculously easy; platforming through Mistralis is far easier than what most seasoned gamers are used to. While some of the jumps require timing and summoning the wind in the correct directions, the learning curve is so utterly shallow that you might wonder if it’s even possible to die in the game. While it is possible to damage Toku (you’d have to be inept enough to let him to fall pretty far, get roasted by some wayward blast of fire, or slowly whittled down by the pushover enemies for that to happen), you can just wave a few blasts of air to get him back on his feet. It’s made even easier by the sheer abundance of health replenishments and other pickups lying around. Its ease is also supplemented by its brevity; it shouldn’t take you more than three or four hours to blow through Mistralis and its little puzzles. Given the sheer amount of far better and cheaper retro platforming titles available on the Virtual Console, old school gamers might consider LostWinds a joke.
But for all it lacks, the game has one strength: its presentation. LostWinds is far more beautiful than the 2D platformers it tries to emulate. While the gameplay boils down to sidescrolling platforms and tunnels spanning across several area, the backgrounds are portrayed in 3D. Mistralis is a land made up of dark, fungus-infested caverns, lush green hills, and flowing rivers. While the backgrounds have Dr. Seuss-esque cartoon designs, they’re still a sight to behold. Toku looks adorable with his oversized hat and his little flapping cape. The cherry blossom trees may look warped and awkwardly proportioned, but they still shed their petals like their real counterparts. Watching the grass slightly shift with the breeze may not sound impressive, but it’s one of the many subtle details worked into the scene. The atmosphere is wonderful as well; you can hear the water gurgling downstream, birdcalls from off-screen, and the rustle of the leaves whenever you let the wind blow through the trees and bushes. The slow flute instrumentals complement the graphics to create a relaxed setting overall.
It’s a shame, really. LostWinds reeks of wasted potential. It’s got a considerable amount of great ideas that, if further developed, could produce one of the best platforming games in recent years. It got the presentation down perfectly, but is mediocre with everything else. The story and characters have their charms, though gamers probably won’t think much of them. The platforming and exploration work well in theory, but they’re limited by the execution. Given the simplicity of the puzzles and the unbelievably forgiving learning curve, this game leaves much to be desired. The real challenge comes with the controls; it won’t take long before your WiiMote arm starts giving into the strain from all the stuff you’ll be doing onscreen. Maybe you’ll appreciate LostWinds for what it is: a short, simple platforming game that uses motion controls. That’s all. It could be worse, all things considered. At least you don’t have to save a princess.