It's hard not to compare Tornado Outbreak to Katamari Damacy. In both games, you take control of a destructive entity to become bigger and more powerful as you wreck more and more objects. The difference here is that rather than roll around as a sticky ball, you wreak havoc as a growing tornado, flinging all sorts of objects into the air instead of collecting them. Like the Katamari games, this one can supply some good-natured fun, but it feels altogether too mild to hook you. A stronger visual style and a zestier story would have provided some much-needed personality, but as it stands, Tornado Outbreak isn't much more than simply cute.
The premise is simple: As Zephyr, the wind warrior, you maneuver a cyclone around various levels, destroying vegetation, Ferris wheels, tanks, and double-decker buses along the way. You start out as a teensy twister, flinging around rocks and grass, but the more you smash, the stronger you become. Eventually, you graduate from barrels and fences to billboards and skyscrapers. You'll earn the ability to hop onto larger objects to help break them up more quickly, as well as dash, which comes in handy when you're trying to avoid sunlight. You see, to wind warriors, the sun's rays are extremely dangerous and levels fence you in with glowing walls of harmful light.
You aren't disrupting the homes and lives of countless virtual citizens simply for the sake of wanton destruction (not that there's anything wrong with that). Your main goal is to locate and collect as many flaming critters known as fire flyers in each level as you can. There are 100 flyers in each run, and while you only need to smash up 50 to progress, finding more will improve your score. The caveat: You only have so much time in which to accomplish your objective. However, you can add seconds to the clock by gathering fire flyers into your tornado and then releasing them. The more you release at one time, the more time you have to scour the level, though you can't pull the creatures into your vortex indiscriminately. Activating the "suck" mechanic causes the whirlwind to gradually slow to a stop and forces you to release any flyers you've accumulated. This method of adding time to the clock is a cool mechanic, and managing your time wisely enough to collect all 100 critters feels rewarding. However, when the clock is ticking down and you must return to the level's end point (a device called the L.O.A.D. STARR), you'll long for some kind of minimap or obvious waypoint to help you find your way to your destination. A map would also help alleviate the frustration of not being able to immediately tell which parts of the level you can access and which you can't, given that the walls of sunlight hedging you in aren't always noticeable until you're relatively close to them.
On the surface, Tornado Outbreak seems to check off all the right Katamari-inspired boxes, but while it has its moments, the game simply can't keep up with its inspiration. The story that plays out in between stages is told by some lovely animated cutscenes, but in spite of some good voice acting, the semiserious, Saturday-morning-cartoon tone of the story diminishes the small flashes of charm the characters display. Across the board, it feels as if the game doesn't go far enough. The art design is cute, but it isn't colorful or whimsical enough to inspire campy cheer, nor is it twisted enough to make destroying a carnival feel deliciously evil. Rather, it hovers in between without delivering any real hook--the kind such shallow games so desperately need to keep you glued to the screen. And as its discounted price tag may suggest, Tornado Outbreak does not push the limits of modern visual technology, resembling a downloadable Xbox Live Arcade game more than a full retail product. Nevertheless, there are some touches that stand out, such as the way objects shudder as you approach them before breaking into pieces or the way horses neigh frantically as your growing storm draws near.
In spite of its drawbacks, Tornado Outbreak is still lightly entertaining. As your cyclone grows, it's fun to suck up and fling away buildings that were too large to have an effect on earlier. And the congratulatory words that spring up when you release a large collection of fire flyers ("Amazing!") offer the right kind of positive reinforcement. Even the vortex races, which send your storm hurdling through a series of gates, are mildly enjoyable, if a bit lengthy. Other attempts to veer from the safe confines of scenery destruction miss the mark. Each stage ends with a boss fight of sorts in which you weave around moving shafts of sunlight until you reach a fiery totem, which you destroy by pounding on a button in a sort of whack-a-mole variant. Keeping out of the sun's rays is rather amusing and sometimes even challenging because the light's pattern changes every stage, but the totem attacks are a shallow and repetitive letdown. The final boss offers a smidgen of variety, and the level's use of light and shadows is rather clever. However, the encounter goes on far, far too long and is capped by an even simpler version of that same button-mashing minigame, which lets the wind right out of your sails.
A friend can join you in local co-op play, controlling another tornado in standard levels or alternating shielding and movement duties with you in vortex races and totem battles. It's amusing to play this way as long as you set the camera option to split-screen. Otherwise, the camera will dynamically change from shared to split-screen, and the transition is unpleasantly jarring. But co-op play and various optional objectives that will net you bonus points aren't likely to keep you coming back for more. With the right treatment, Tornado Outbreak could have provided some gale-force entertainment, but instead, it's as harmless as a soft breeze.