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You may consider it strange for us to tell you that a small, downloadable 2D game is one of the most significant Wii releases of the year so far. “But Mario Kart!”, you may protest. “But Brawl!” The thing is though, as excellent as both of those games undoubtedly are, they’re not really Wii games.
Without wanting to be wrongly labelled as part of the “Two Gamecubes taped together” brigade, we have to point out that, Wii Wheel aside, they’re both essentially last-gen productions on a current-gen format. They’re superb examples of their respective genres of course, but in lieu of extra horsepower the Wii’s manifesto has always been to bring us new experiences and find new angles from which to approach old ones. And that’s where LostWinds comes in.
Think of it as a next-gen Metroid, only next-gen in terms of game mechanics rather than HD presentation. You’ll be controlling Toku, a marvellously be-hatted young scamp who lives in the beautiful but cursed land of Mistralis. And when we say ‘controlling’, we don't mean in the traditional sense.
While Toku can be moved left and right with the analogue stick and will perform small auto-jumps over gaps, he’s really rather useless in all other respects. Enter Enril, the game’s second protagonist. Enril is Mistralis’ wind spirit, represented on-screen by a Wiimote-controlled cursor. It is largely through Enril that you’ll be forging Toku’s path through the world, using her elemental abilities to manipulate the environment and Toku himself.
Hold down the A button and swipe Enril across the the screen and she’ll leave a gust of wind in her stead, directly affecting whatever it touches. Swipe upwards through Toku’s body and he’ll jump many times higher than he could unassisted. Swipe horizontally as he jumps over the edge of a cliff and he’ll be carried across to safety. But crucially, none of this is implemented in a way which makes LostWinds the simple point and click game it may sound.
While the interface is simple and accessible through its tactility, that simplicity is used to facilitate greater and more nuanced control over Enril’s abilities. The controls aren’t dumbed down, they’re just made easy to use so that you can experiment freely. If you can’t do something in LostWinds, it’s just because you didn’t think of how to do it, not because you couldn’t pull it off. In terms of both its physical design and its implementation within the gameplay, LostWinds’ interface is one of the finest crafted we’ve ever seen.
And when you get to those tasks, our earlier Metroid comparison will suddenly make a lot of sense. LostWinds makes use of the same kind of environmental action-puzzling, seeing you adapt your current abilities to manipulate either Toku or the world around him in order to progress. We say ‘current abilities’ because Enril’s powers will be expanded throughout the game by finding lost shards of stone which contain different aspects of her zephyrean nature. LostWinds also inhabits a similarly open world of inter-connecting but initially locked off areas which must be opened up by gaining further abilities.
But wheras traditional Metroid games can be a tad rigid in the way they play out (Can’t get past the big pits with the grappling beam hooks? Get the grappling beam), LostWinds feels a lot more organic. Enril’s wind manipulation powers can be moulded to fit a variety of tasks.
Her standard ability can throw Toku around the screen, augment his (lack of) physical strength, move key puzzle items to where they need to be used, and even redirect the flow of fire and water. Her Slipstream ability lets you draw a convoluted path for a stream of air to follow around the screen, and as well as allowing Toku to fly around the level – provided you can find something to help him with uplift of course – can be used in conjuction with flame to essentially shoot around corners at enemies and destructible barriers. It’s a terrifically free-flowing interpretation of traditional adventure game mechanics, and it makes LostWinds ever more refreshing.
And that gentler, more relaxed approach to the puzzling typifies the game’s tone as a whole. LostWinds really is one of the most pleasurably mellow games we’ve played in a long time. Its charmingly stylised graphics – some of the best around in both design and execution – evoke a warm, hazy, rural calm, and feel splendidly solid and ‘touchable’ while still maintaining an air of almost cel-shaded artistic crafting.
The endearingly amiable design of Mistralis’ human characters is complimented by some inspired abstract monsters. The black blobs of concentrated evil which you amusingly throw against walls and drop from the sky early on in the game will later possess inanimate objects, animating rocks and leaves into approximations of recognisable living creatures in order to attack you in new ways. And the delicate ambient soundtrack made up of woodwind, string and and traditional percussion sounds beautifully straddles the aesthetic of both eastern and western folk music without really subscribing to either.
The amount of love that has gone into the creation of LostWinds is tangible as you play though it, and it’s a love that will seep unavoidably into your being with each passing minute. Whether it’s through the broad strokes of the brilliantly judged puzzling and flawless control or via the delicate flecks which make up the finer detail – try playing around with the background scenery to see just how much Enril can mess about with – the sheer joy of playing LostWinds is undeniable. It’s the kind of experience we bought our Wiis for in the first place, it’s the best justification we can imagine for the existence of WiiWare, and it’s a stunning example of what videogames can achieve in terms of craftsmanship and artistry.
Download it. Download it now.