Wii's Golden Age Begins

User Rating: 9 | LostWinds WII
WiiWare launched a day before my writing this review, and I'm so very glad the platform is finally here. Though Galaxy was great, and we're still getting some mileage out of Brawl, my family's Wii hasn't seen a whole lot of use as of late. The thing is, we still have three consoles (GCN, PS2 and Xbox, not including GBAs and DSes) from last generation, which have great libraries of games to play, and the Wii hasn't actually wowed us yet with Wii-specific gameplay. Along comes WiiWare, and LostWinds with it, and the winds of change are finally here.

You play controlling two characters: Toku, a boy samurai, and Enril, an ancient wind spirit. Another ancient spirit, Balasar – an evil menace – has escaped his imprisonment, and it's up to Toku and Enril to save the day. The story seems to be set in ancient, mystical Japan, and the presentation is, simply put, stunning. The character models are similar to those of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, sans the cel-shading, and LostWinds is just a marvelous production to behold and experience.

Unlike many other Wii games, LostWinds actually makes extensive and creative, not to mention extremely fun use of the Wii remote. The focus of gameplay is: controlling Enril and the various wind powers she gains throughout the short adventure. You also move Toku, using the nunchuk's control stick, but it's Enril who will assist and guide Toku to various places otherwise unreachable. Along with aiding Toku, Enril can manipulate the environment around her, and it will prove invaluable for solving a myriad of clever platforming puzzles. All control of Enril is done via the Wii remote, in conjunction with various buttons, and it works pretty much flawlessly. That's not to say it's entirely easy, since getting a grasp on the various wind powers takes time to master. But the gameplay is all quite obvious and fun as heck to learn.

For the most part, the gameplay is a combination of puzzle solving and platforming, wrapped in an adventure package. All those elements are tossed together to make a really entertaining, side-scrolling experience. Yes, it's a 3D game, but played from a side-scrolling perspective. You'll be required to use the wind to have objects break gates, or to cause fire to burn down vines that impede Toku's path. Other times, you'll have Enril guide water to a patch of dirt, in order to make a seed sprout, allowing Toku to then use the plant to propel himself upward. There's a nice variety of creative gameplay mechanics, though some can be a tad frustrating until you've mastered control over the wind. Additionally, since you're often required to control an object while simultaneously controlling Toku, it can be quite a challenge to make your way through a given passage. Some puzzles are clear as day, while others rival those of Zack and Wiki. Toss in the need to negotiate various puzzles by way of platforming, and you get some interesting brain teasers that need to be worked out.

There are, however, a couple of minor quibbles with the game. Once or twice I experienced some glitching, such as having Toku end up stuck on a wall, unable to get free. In such cases, the only solution I found was to restart from my last save. That said, save points are sprinkled generously throughout the realm of the game, so it wasn't a huge deal, but of course, it's worth mentioning, all the same. However, in addition to getting stuck by glitches, there are a couple of areas in the game where you can just get plain stuck. I'm not talking about stumped, I'm talking about stuck. Sometimes you'll be able to access an area you perhaps weren't meant to get to just yet, and then not be able to make your way because you find yourself unequipped. The only solution – as mentioned before – is to restart from your last save. These issues are oversights that are unfortunate, but by no means ruin the experience. There's enough goodness here to keep you smiling almost the whole way through. The main point I can't really stress enough, though, is that LostWinds is just such a wonderful example of what Wii gameplay was meant to be.

On the presentation front, LostWinds is a lovely experience from start to finish. The visuals are breathtaking, looking better than most other Wii games currently available. The game's look is similar to that of an early Pixar film. There are a few hiccups here and there in the frame rate, but for the most part, everything runs at a smooth pace. The music and sound effects, too, are as beautiful as the graphics. Subtle taps and water-droplet sounds, Zen-like Asian themes – the game is a soothing experience, unlike your typical frantic video-game romp.

It's short, yes; my playthrough clocked in at about five hours. But the game's length is, to me, just right. I've put in over 100 hours into games like Pokemon Diamond, yet I've spent endless quarters on games that offer only a five-minute burst of fun in arcades. In my 30-some years of gaming, I've seen just about everything, and for $10, LostWinds is an incredible value. It's a game you'll easily want to come back to again and again. If you bought a Wii because you wanted the new and innovative gameplay experience the system promised, you really owe it to yourself to buy this game. Minor blemishes aside, you couldn't ask for a better launch title.