When Tornado was announced for Nintendo DS, we were excited at the prospect of chaotic action designed around use of the stylus. Unfortunately, a few poor design choices and an incredibly unforgiving timer system amounted to an experience that was less than stellar. Konami, however, has picked up that mantle of Katamari Damacy-inspired gameplay, bringing Tornado Outbreak to current-gen consoles. Does this reign of destruction present all the right conditions to create the perfect storm, or will gamers walk away with merely a cool breeze?
Believe it or not, Tornado Outbreak comes complete with a story, one which puts in you control of Zephyr, the newly appointed leader of an interstellar group of Wind Warriors. You’re tasked with retrieving orbs stolen from a fallen hero, and the trail of your enemy leads directly to Earth. You’ll have to fight Fire Flyers and harness their power in order to keep your storms raging on.
Though it’s commendable that the developers try to give players some impetus for their destruction, the characters and dialogue are a huge mismatch for the gameplay. The cutesy artwork and heavy handed prose try to captivate in a way similar to recent Sonic games, but the story neither peaks with its humor nor its attempts at being serious. Regardless of its limited appeal, the younger audience the presentation seems to be courting will likely be blown away by the game’s brutal difficulty.
Tornado Outbreak is broken up into a variety of themed levels, and both their look and layout are entertaining. Missions follow a set formula throughout the duration of the game, tasking you with clearing out three separate zones to undercover hidden totems that will later make up a boss challenge for each level. Along with a brief sequence that has you racing through checkpoints in order to power up a vortex, the level design is a solid one. Unfortunately, the game never really deviates from one, set pattern, and repetition quickly sets in. Having to repeat levels upward of 10-15 times due to a time limit that arbitrarily makes things difficult only serves to further depreciate the value of the adventure.
Each level zone begins roughly the same: You’ll start out as a mere dirt devil, absorbing small objects in order to grow in size. At first you’ll need to suck up flowers, mailboxes, and street signs, eventually moving on to bigger items, such as cars, homes, and bridges. Basically, if an object shakes, you’re powerful enough to absorb it.
In order to keep your twister on the move, you’ll have to maintain the power of a machine called the L.O.A.D. Starr. The L.O.A.D. Starr manufactures cloud formations for you, since moving into sunlight will stop you in your tracks. Your enemies – the Fire Flyers – are hiding within various objects throughout a level, and by sucking them up, you give energy to the L.O.A.D. Starr. You can create a chain of energy by collecting additional flyers before a timed meter runs out, and by doing so you’ll add precious time to the zone clock.
The controls are straightforward. You move Zephyr with the control stick on the Nunchuk, and you can grab and hold Flyers with the B button. Later on you’ll gain additional abilities, such as ground-pounding (A button) and dashing (Z button). The gameplay and level progression, however, don’t change greatly from start to finish.
Time is never on your side in Tornado Outbreak, so you’ll have to learn the lay of the land (which, ultimately, you will do by replaying zones over and over), as well as make use of the Fire Flyers strategically. Though each zone might initially seem impossible to complete, finding the right strategy to finish a zone can be thoroughly rewarding.
The game’s difficulty, however, feels a bit unfair, especially in light of the fact that you’re not really given the tools you need in order to successfully navigate zones. There’s no map system in the game, nor are you given any control over the camera. You’ll have to play through zones repeatedly just to familiarize yourself with where objects of varying sizes are located, and when your twister hits levels five and six, the camera takes a behind-the-back view that can be cumbersome.
After you’ve completed the zone areas, you’ll then need to form a vortex. This amounts to little more than steering Zephyr through an on-rails race, and it’s probably the weakest aspect of the game. Control feels clumsy, but luckily, these sequences are brief.
Once your vortex is fully established, however, it’s time to take on the totems. Though the premise is the same each time you face the totems, the approach is varied up nicely. You’ll once again have to avoid sunlight, as well as molten projectiles being lobbed your way. Upon reaching a totem, you’ll then waggle the Wii Remote to attack a certain portion of the totem before a gate closes in on your troupe of Wind Warriors. Waggling feels like a completely unnecessary addition, and the lack of any rumble feedback means it isn’t very fun, either.
There is a co-op option for two players, and though it can be mildly amusing, it doesn’t actually make the gameplay any easier. In fact, co-op makes completing zones more difficult, since you’ll have to share your consumption of objects with another player, causing you to level up more slowly. When you and your buddy are in close proximity, the camera is a single-screen view, though it will automatically change to split-screen when you move further apart from each other. It’s jarring to say the least, but you can set the camera for a constant-split-screen configuration in the options menu.
In terms of visuals, Tornado Outbreak once again shoots itself in the foot. It’s certainly no looker from a technical standpoint, but the various themes are fun to explore. The real problem, however, is that most levels are dark to the point of making it impossible to see many of the objects within a given zone, and you’ll end up wasting precious time wandering about aimlessly. The framerate holds up fairly well, though, and the animated cutscenes are attractive.
On the audio front, all of the dialogue is voiced competently, and the music, though unoriginal, fits the gameplay like a glove. As your tornado grows in size, the music intensifies. Once the zone timer begins to count down the final minute, things really get hectic. The sounds of cobbles clanking and bushes being uprooted sound great, and on the whole, the sound effects and music do a bang-up job of lending excitement to the experience.
Tornado Outbreak has a solid foundation built around a compelling gameplay idea. After all, Katamari Damacy offered an inventive and addictive formula that has yet to be fully explored. Adding the destructive nature of tornadoes to the equation is definitely something we’re ready to get onboard with. Unfortunately, Konami doesn’t quite hit the mark here, though they’re off to a good start. The level of challenge is brutal, but a lot of that is due to poor design. Additionally, the lack of variety, anemic collection of unlockables, and a short story mode make this a better candidate for the WiiWare platform.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
The look and style of the game are enjoyable, though the fidelity isn’t great. The lighting is simply too dark most times, making an already challenging game impossibly difficult. 3.8 Control
Controlling Zephyr feels intuitive and fun. The waggle could have been entertaining with a bit of rumble feedback, but it ends up falling flat. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice work is well delivered, though the dialogue is over the top in its seriousness. Music and sound effects add a nice bit of excitement to the adventure. 3.0
The presentation is solid, though it also feels pretty light. Were the game not so difficult, most players would zip through it in only a handful of hours. With a few tweaks, Tornado Outbreak would make an excellent WiiWare title.
3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.