I approached Tornado on the Nintendo DS with some excitement. In my ignorance I wondered if it was a sequel to a game I had previously enjoyed; namely, Tornado Mania! 3D. If this name doesn’t seem familiar to you, don’t panic, as this game was released on a hand-held system you probably don’t consider that often. This little gem was only released on mobile phones, and it was an unexpected treat.
Regrettably for me, and for you, dear gamer, I was wrong. Oh so wrong. Still, the gaming premise of Tornado is fairly solid, once you get passed the flimsy excuse for a plot used to justify it. You control a “Cosmic Cleaner”, which, while sounding like an under-paid immigrant worker in a spacesuit, is in fact, a talking cat. Well, a beeping cat. A beeping cat with the ability to turn into a tornado, to be precise. Our feline friends use this enviable talent to clean up the collective trash left all over earth, thereby earning brownie points with Al Gore if nothing else.
“Ignition Entertainment’s main point of reference for this game has to be the Katamari series”But uh-oh! Someone with a black hole has been a very naughty boy, and has decided to steal everything on Earth! Why? Because it’s pretty, that’s why! A scathing indictment of our superficial and avaricious society if ever I’ve heard one. So, our intrepid hero Toki and his purring pals must use their swirling skills to transport all of their arch-nemesis The Prince’s ill-gotten gains back to Earth. That old chestnut.
Ignition Entertainment’s main point of reference for this game has to be the Katamari series, in terms of theme and gameplay. So anyone with Katamari withdrawal symptoms could be excused for thinking that Tornado will supply them with a quick fix while they wait for the next instalment. It might, just not a very good one. Comparing these two games gives us conclusive proof that it’s more fun to have sticky balls than very strong wind.
Put simply, the game itself entails navigating your whirlwind around ten levels, sucking up trees and buildings and suchlike, ostensibly to be “transported back to Earth”. This is not the main objective of each level, which tends to be a case of finding a certain number of batteries for your spaceship or pieces of a broken machine, etc, or finding one of your cosmic colleagues hidden in a building.
Each of the 10 maps is situated in a different country, taking in settings ranging from quaint “tea-with-the-Queen” England, to glacial Antarctica, to the pyramid-strewn deserts of Egypt. All of these backdrops feature some nice cartoon versions of famous landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and the Hollywood sign, so you can let your Roland Emmerich fantasies loose on every level. There are some nice details in each of these locations, not to mention some idiosyncratic ones (zombies wandering through the streets of faux-New York?). Particularly charming are the incidental sound effects that occur when you suck up any item. People scream, stadiums cheer, church bells ring, and trees make a strangely satisfying popping noise when they are pulled out of the ground. There’s also the occasional air-borne object to consume, ranging from parachutists to UFOs and magic carpets.
All of which makes me want to really like Tornado. So it’s a real shame that the gameplay itself is fundamentally unlikeable. The control system means the player constantly has to draw circles with the stylus on the bottom screen just to get from A to B. This is not only tiring on the hand, but can also lead to some imprecision when it comes to sending your cyclone in the right direction. Worse still, it can be hard to see exactly what’s going on when you’re constantly waving your hand in front of the screen. You do have the option to use the d-pad to move around, but it just doesn’t feel right, and you have to draw circles with the stylus anyway to keep your power level up. The top screen is taken up by a largely useless map of the current level. This seems a bit of a waste when you consider that the camera is fixed in a fairly close-up position, with no option to zoom out any further and better take in your surroundings. So a decent map really would’ve been a god-send.
In order to get your twister strong enough to destroy larger buildings, it is necessary to “clean up” a certain amount of the landscape. Whenever you have to find one of your lost colleagues, they are invariably hidden in one of the largest buildings on the level, meaning you have to have a very strong tornado to uncover them. On most of these levels, you have the additional task of cleaning up a certain percentage of the stage before your kitty companion can be rescued. Not that the game tells you this. I actually had to look it up on Ignition Entertainment’s website. I consider myself a fairly seasoned gamer, and found it quite disheartening to be stuck on Stage 2 of a game that features a bright pink dog as one of it’s main characters.
There is a brief tutorial that outlines the controls and basic game objectives for you, but it isn’t as helpful as it should be and leaves you with the nagging feeling that perhaps you’re doing something wrong. When you combine this with objectives that are often unclear, it can make for a frustrating experience.
“I found it quite disheartening to be stuck on Stage 2 of a game that features a bright pink dog as one of it’s main characters”However, there is one aspect of Tornado that proves to be particularly infuriating. Each level has a time limit, which, you may think, is fair enough. But the time restrictions in Tornado are some of the most unforgiving I have ever seen. Seriously, if this game is aimed at kids the developers’ children must have been taken into care by now. Ignition have tried to make up for the lack of longevity by making the time limits unfeasibly tight, and it just doesn’t work. It takes so long to build your tornado up to full strength that on most levels you’ve exhausted most of your allotted time before you can take down the largest buildings, which leads to a frantic dash around the map to desperately destroy any random buildings you can. All too often it seems to be more luck than judgement if you achieve your objectives. It essentially amounts to wandering around arbitrarily trashing whatever gets in your way, and hoping that by covering every square inch of the map you’ll stumble across what you’re looking for.
The maps themselves are all basically just different sized squares, and the occasional slope or hill does nothing to change that in anything other than the most superficial way. Worse still is the fact that whenever your tornado enters water (and there are plenty of rivers and the like scattered around each environment), it is only possible to get back out by finding a slope. The time limits are tight enough without having to traipse up and down a river trying to find a suitable exit, especially when you can’t zoom the camera out to find the quickest route.
There are plenty of other niggling little issues that cause major irritation as well. For instance, if you fail one of your missions (and you will, many, many times) there is no option to restart straight away. Instead you are whisked back to the start menu via the initial loading screen, as if you had completely turned off the DS. Baffling. Perhaps Nintendo should fit the DS with a similar strap to the Wii remote, so whenever someone plays Tornado they can throw the console without smashing it.
Tornado has a number of fundamental flaws that damage the game irreparably, and ultimately it is just too repetitive to make you want to keep playing. There’s little noticeable difference between playable characters, so besides slight aesthetic changes they add no variation to speak of. There are a few different types of power-up to collect, but their impact on the game is negligible. You will occasionally come across obstacles, like missiles sticking out of the ground in the Iraq-based stage 3 (N.B. is this a video gaming first? A non-military game with an Iraq level?). But rather than providing any sort of entertainment value, these just become an annoyance, as the imprecise controls make navigating around them a hit-and-miss affair. Even more grating is the introduction of a purple-clad super-hero, which threatens to introduce some life into proceedings but quickly becomes one more in a long line of irritations.
“Tornado is something of a missed opportunity”Throw into the mix a perfunctory Arcade mode which adds very little of worth (just smash a certain percentage of the environment on exactly the same maps as the story mode within a given time), some pointless boss battles (which entail ramming your enemy until he dies) and it all adds up to a fairly dull game with nothing to keep you coming back for more. Unless you count unlocking some nasty midi music tracks as the Golden Fleece of gaming that is.
All in all, Tornado is something of a missed opportunity. A bit more thought could have made this a nice little action-puzzler. It’s a shame that I can’t truly recommend it. If you really have the urge to act like a tornado, strap a Hoover to your back and run in circles around your living room, because this game certainly won’t blow you away.