Almost too breezy, but enchanting anyways.
Episodic gaming is the industry's new bloom lighting. I'm not quite sure why it's suddenly everywhere, but it is. From graphic adventure revivals to FPS epics to web comic adaptations, the opportunity is here for gamers to either declare this format the future of gaming, or to run away screaming. If you're the latter type, start warming up your vocal chords, because LostWinds, is an episodic game in everything but name. But it'd be a real shame to let this blow by, because for the length of LostWinds, it's a real charm-your-socks-off platformer.
You'll get a pleasant, easygoing vibe from the moment you boot up LostWinds and catch a glimpse of its presentation, which easily surpasses most disc-based Wii titles. Though using a 3D engine for a 2D platformer, everything in LostWinds from the characters to the backgrounds looks soft and touchable, whether you are exploring caverns, open fields, ruins, or the town. The characters are especially plushy-esque—not unlike the adorable ragdolls of LittleBigPlanet—and they animate naturally. The colors serve as a nice stage for your characters, with a lot of saturated, subtly contrasting colors, that makes each scene very easy on the eyes.
There are also some nice touches like tall grass and trees that sway in the wind, and leaves that fall in the background. The only odd bit is that you can't interact with anything in the background, making you feel stuck in a 2D existence, especially since many non-playable characters hang out in the background. This, though, doesn't make LostWinds any less visually impressive.
As good as the visuals are, the sound equals it. A nature theme runs throughout, and it makes most everything you hear remind you of a warm summer day. With a cohesive mix of natural tones, relaxed yet smooth rhythms, and an oriental influence on the melody, the music soothes and arrests. Sound effects hold up nicely as well, with a range from satisfying splats with you smash slime monsters against the ground to realistic rushes of wind. All of the effects are a smart mix of realistic accuracy and amusing strangeness.
Your senses will be so pleased that you don't even need to play the game. Just spend a few hours staring and listening to the title screen. If you're the type of person who insists on interacting with your video games (that is, you're not a Metal Gear Solid “player”), you'll find a breezy, run-and-gust 2D platformer with delightful sprinkles of puzzles. The wind spirit Enril has lost most of his powers, and there's an evil spirit named Balasar running amok, so it's naturally up to a ten-year old named Toku to put things right.
The tale is so nicely innocuous that it doesn't affect anything one way or another, but it sets up some innovative controls. Instead of having a dedicated jump button, you toss Toku about with a gust of wind, which you trigger by holding the A button and tracing a direction with the Wii-mote pointer. This makes navigation both more precise and more challenging; you have great control over Toku but the difficulty of tracing an exact trajectory is tricky. However, the requisite skill makes getting from one platform to the next more dynamic than ordinary leaping.
Toku's abilities expand over the course of the game as he powers up Enril and gains new wind-based abilities. This occurs frequently so you always have a new toy to try out in the environments. The levels are built like those from a Metroid game, meaning the world is one big level that opens up in all directions as your abilities give you new ways to bypass obstacles. It doesn't work quite as well as you might expect, though. There aren't many areas, and the backtracking can get frustrating, making it ever more apparent that Toku moves too deliberately.
The puzzles that require your gusting abilities are a little disappointing - the standard "put this rock onto this pressure pad" or "burn away the burnable-looking obstacle type" - but they're usually cleverly designed. None of them take very long to solve yet are still mildly challenging, usually using one of Toku's newest ability at the time. Because the game reuses the same rocks, fire, and switches formula for all of its puzzles, there's nothing extremely taxing, but this blends with LostWinds' mellow feel. Still, tossing rocks with the wind never quite reflects the direction you draw, leading to times when you spend up to a minute trying to get a rock on a switch.
LostWinds is what a Wii game should be: an intelligent use of the unique features of the controller without stooping to a gimmick, and so aesthetically stylish that the Wii's lesser technical capabilities don't matter. It's also snack-sized. At about one-fifth of the price and length of a full-scale platformer, it's pretty, polished and fun. LostWinds is one of the most recommendable downloadable games from WiiWare.