Reviewed: October 24, 2008
Released: May 12, 2008
If anyone had doubts about the viability of WiiWare to deliver quality content before the highly entertaining new adventure game LostWinds was published, those doubts have surely been put to rest. A delightful escape into a colorful world of magic and nature, LostWinds tells the story of a plucky little (and I mean little) boy who becomes friends with Enril, a wind spirit on a quest to seal away an evil power. The story won't be winning any Pulitzers, but Frontier Developments' light, whimsical take on the material is refreshing.
Players actually control both Enril and Toku, the boy, although Enril does most of the work. All poor Toku can do is run from side to side and take miniscule leaps off of accessible ledges (he is controlled via the Wii Nunchuck attachment). Toku looks a lot like one of the five Beijing Olympic mascots (I'd say fiery Huan Huan is the closest match), and if you've seen them, you can imagine how cute his ineffectual jumps look. Of course, cuteness without gameplay gives us a walking Hello Kitty advertisement, but never fear: this is where Enril comes in. Although the wind spirit can speak, it is never actually given a form or appearance. Instead, using smooth, intuitive controls, players wave and drag the Wii Remote around to act as Enril, creating gusts of wind that help Toku get where he needs to go.
The sheer amount of stuff Enril can do by the end of the game is astonishing, and little things most players might not notice or think of add to this sense of control openness. NPCs and many inanimate objects can be blown by Enril's winds, and combining moves can allow Toku to stay airborne for a very long time, as well as reach ledges that seem inaccessible at first glance. Just going back and forth through the game world as new powers are added is a treat, as experimentation often proves fruitful in finding alternate routes, new rooms and hidden bonus items.
Enril is also indispensable for dealing with the game's dark, blob-like enemies (who, as a minor aside, make very annoying sounds). By dragging gusts of wind up and down over them, players can toss a blob high into the air and then slap it back down to earth, causing it to dissipate and release butterflies. Butterflies! Everything about this game is cute, but in a likeable, non-sugary way. The only control problem is that, with all of Enril's abilities activated, it's easy to accidentally use the wrong one--not through any fault of the controller layout, but simply because they all come on fast, before players have had time to get totally used to them.
The music is also of some note. It is simple, but tightly composed, and very relaxing, straddling the line between melody and ambient sound perfectly. At the end of a bad day, it can be therapeutic just to load up the game's title screen and listen to the music while lazily waving the Wii Remote around to blow on the rustling virtual leaves.
The graphics are also a sight for sore eyes: although LostWinds is essentially played in two dimensions, the 3D graphics used to make up the world are smooth and have a nice unified look about them--a lot of character without too much exaggeration. The game's brightly-colored, bloomed out style is reminiscent of something between a dream and a cartoon.
In fact, for the first hour and a half, many players will find themselves thinking that for a measly ten bucks, they've snagged the gaming deal of the year. Then, the game ends, and those players will realize why LostWinds is so cheap: it is short. Not Devil May Cry short: SHORT short, like a crouching midget. The game's one big flaw is its length. It's just a bit too easy to last much longer than three hours, even in the hands of an inexperienced gamer; the optional item collection quest might add another hour, but that's mostly just retracing Toku's steps looking for paths and areas one might have missed.
Still, despite the unfortunate length of LostWinds, it is a remarkably good game, an adventure with broad appeal that takes a simple idea and brings it to elegant fruition. It is also impressive that such a pretty and full-featured game of any length was released via WiiWare, with its extremely limited memory allowance per title. The end of LostWinds promises a sequel. Let's hope it comes out on a Wii disc so that it can make good on the first game's two-hour promise with a twenty-hour payoff. For now, though, even as a demo-length game, LostWinds is worth every one of those 1,000 Wii Points. Buy it today, beat it tonight, and become a fan for life.