Tornado Outbreak ReviewJason Venter
Your name is Zephyr and you are a wind warrior. Though you're one of many who roam the universe causing wind, there's something special about you. Nimbus, the leader of the wind warriors, sees in you the qualities of a leader... and a hero. Yes, the story in Tornado Outbreak is as generic as it sounds. That's okay, though, because you're not likely to play the game for its plot. You're more likely to play it because it's so much like Katamari Damacy.
Despite being destined for great things, you start the game (and every level) in extremely weak condition. You're just a little dust devil, blowing around in the environment of the hour. Chickens that pass too close to you lose their feathers and blades of grass are no match for your wrath, but you don't have a lot of impact on more imposing targets like a small rock or a barking dog. At least, you don't at first. Then you suck up more grass and more chicken feathers-or whatever suits you and is available-and suddenly you're lifting up whole chickens and geishas and tractors. Suddenly, you're destroying outhouses and dismantling barns.
Tornado Outbreak isn't just your average Katamari Damacy clone, though. It's actually quite good! Developer Loose Cannon Studios imbued its debut title with a great deal more personality than you might expect and also expanded the comfortable formula in new directions. There aren't any rainbows and nonsensical lyrics being chanted in the background (what you'll find here is good, but definitely more subdued) and character development takes itself just a little bit too seriously to ever become properly whimsical. There also are boss battles and race sequences too, which help to keep things fresh even if you've rolled a ball around so much as the prince in Namco Bandai's famous franchise that you're starting to think someone should maybe appoint you King of the Cosmos.
After you clear a brief but effective series of tutorial exercises, Tornado Outbreak settles into a comfortable routine that isn't broken until the game's final stage. When arriving at a new location, you will play through three segments, starting fresh each time. Your goal will be to suck up enough energy to grow in size until you can free 50 or more red fire elementals, at which point you can blow on over to the stage's exit portal. Once you clear the initial three stages in a zone, you'll then have to grab a bunch of orbs as you race in widening circles to build up a huge storm. Then a boss stage follows where you race toward totem monsters and punch them repeatedly in weak points on their chests to destroy them.
The main stages are well-designed, with plenty of interesting terrain and objects that are fun to suck up into your ever-expanding funnel of wind. The art style throughout is bright and vibrant, with distinctive artwork so that each new region feels different from the last. You also don't feel like you're stuck in a game world, as the developers came up with a clever conceit: as a wind warrior, you are so weak in the sunlight that you might as well be a vampire. Even though you can see more of the world around you, venturing out from beneath the shadowed areas triggers an irritating pause as you shake off the nasty UV rays and return to the area that you're allowed to explore. It's a smart way to provide the player with reasonable and necessary boundaries, though sometimes it can be easy to forget that such a threat exists.
The developers' efforts with camera control work less admirably. You can't really ever see things from a top-down view, so sometimes it can be difficult to even tell which direction you should head. Then when you do swing the camera around, its horizontal movement is inverted so that right is left and left is right. This can lead to some frustrating moments when your time is about to expire and you're trying to chain together building destructions to add precious seconds to the timer but you can't see your target because you just swung the camera the wrong way. Again. For the twentieth time. It seems like something that should have been adjustable in the Options menu, but it isn't.
Another potential source of frustration is the optional item collection. Spread throughout the world are various ally creatures who can be rescued using special moves, but you won't even learn the moves until better than halfway through your adventure. This forces you to replay the early stages if you want to find everything. Clearly that setup was designed to give the stages replay value, but it still feels cheap. It can also feel cheap when you free an elemental creature, fail a level and then you must free him or her again. The elementals are spread around the stages in a way that forces you to explore, which isn't really something you can conveniently do when you're working against the timer.
With all of that said, the complaints that one might raise against the core game are all quite minor. You'll eventually get used to the inverted camera, for instance, and the stages are interesting enough that you likely won't mind revisiting them (the early ones, at least) to snag elementals. The biggest problem working against the game is actually its length. Unless you spend time finding every bit of unlockable content, you can clear the game in 5 or 6 hours and claim most of its Trophies along the way. There's no difficulty selector, either, and the experience as a whole is a bit on the easy side.
Ultimately, Tornado Outbreaks qualities combine into a package that should be the perfect choice for parents who find it cheap and want to buy something that will keep their kids entertained for a bit. If you are the sort who only buys 2 or 3 games a year, though, you might feel like you blew it if you decide to give this one a shot.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.