El Viento (Genesis) review
"If you're not hooked by the time of the epic confrontation high atop the spires of the Empire State Building then you've surely mislaid your enthusiasm for 2D Blast Processing goodness somewhere along the way."
This is the story of a forgotten Genesis game, one of the many languishing in the eighth circle of bargain hell that is your local Gamestop. Itís just another overlooked title peeking out from beneath the sea of grimy black cartridges and affixed with a gooey price tag for 79 cents. A curious shopper will likely pass over this aging piece of plastic and its plain red sticker (the case and manual having long since been discarded), allowing it plenty of time to contemplate its sorry existence and collect dust.
This theoretical customer will have unknowingly turned down the painfully stylish opening cinema that slowly unfolds in monochrome to begin our tale. Enter the world of New York, 1928 Ė a city that stands unknowingly gripped by the machinations of a sinister religious society. Their leader, aided in his efforts by the underworld of organized crime, seeks to recall the dark god Hastur from his prison in the outer planes. And once Hastur is free, humanity will soon realize the sheer destructive force of Tornado Ė the deadly influence of the wind, ďEl Viento.Ē
Such a person will also miss out on the moment in which our protagonist makes her dramatic appearance, the moment one suddenly realizes that the ill treatment of this cart is in fact SACRILEGE!
Clad all in white, the lovely Annet blazes onto the screen! A Peruvian teenage girl born of the same bloodline as Hastur, watch as our green-haired heroine dashes about the streets of New York trouncing hoods with her soaring steel boomerangs and powerful magic spells! Take a moment to soak in the gameís smooth little touches like Annetís trailing hair ribbons as they blow gently against her waist in the passing breeze, only to flutter madly above her head every time she leaps high into the air with arms raised to the sky. As she races to and fro offing gun-toting gangsters left and right, the arresting animation of Annetís vivid turns and the graceful delivery of her boomerang blows may land you in a bit of trouble! Remember to keep your eyes fixed on all those enemies that youíre supposed to be paying attention to. Thatís right Ė we canít ignore the goons in trenchcoats, the bikers, and the mobster cars that screech to a halt from within the background looking to fire upon us with blazing Thompson machine guns . . . until a few of Annetís fireballs engulf them in massive explosions of vividly colored pixels.
But aesthetics, however sweet they may be, canít carry a game on their own. Thatís why Wolf Team made sure the controls were spot on when they provided Annet with consistently responsive movements and precise, fluid leaping (including the ability to change direction in mid-jump) as she tackles the many pitfalls and hazards that lurk on the road ahead. With the press of a button she can even tear across the screen at breakneck speed or charge up a nasty spell on the run or in midair, which will definitely come in handy. Because as they were busily capturing the essence of what an action platformer should be, Wolf Team also crammed this adventure full of long and winding stages that take us on an incredibly convoluted journey across the world.
Climb the awnings of the cityís buildings, briefly slipping through their interiors while navigating the many rooftops Ė but donít blink, or youíll suddenly find yourself, bouncing from platform to speedily moving platform atop a picturesque valley. Thatís right before we send her scuffling across rapidly disintegrating bridges situated over yawning beds of spikes Ė only to take on her older half-sister Restiana in a desperate magical duel atop a tower of these same delicate footings. Watch as entire rows of fragile wood begin smashing into pieces with each missed shot until the opposing siblings finally touch the ground!
All this as Motoi Sakurabaís infectiously energetic compositions blast from your speakers with their pumping drums, clapping castanets and plenty of wailing from the chords of the Genesis Guitar. Yet Sakurabaís score will also curb its frantic tempo for calming piano pieces or sinister adagios during the captivating intermissions that offer short glimpses into the exceptional story as it develops. Weíre introduced to a slew of memorable persons of dubious character: slithery mastermind Henry and his sinister schemes for poor, misguided Restiana . . . Annetís guardian, the intrepid explorer and tomb raider Earnest Evans . . . Annetís other guardian, crime boss Al Capone(!) . . . and even the unfathomable Zigfried, a stylish silver-haired mystery man who seems to know more than heís letting on.
But while the story certainly builds, itís the platforming joy that really starts to rack up with each passing stage. Just like the immense orange explosions racking up across an ever diverse procession of foes that fall beneath Annetís sorcerous might. With what shall she blast them into oblivion, you ask? Why, with her ground-hugging crashes of water, slicing gusts of vacuum waves and relentless streams of homing needles, of course. Whether enjoying a harrying ocean cruise atop a dolphinís back as numerous bombs hit the foreground with tremendous splashes, braving the conveyer belts and dangerous machinery of a Detroit factory, or attacking the towering power core of a gunnery-filled war zeppelin, if youíre not hooked by the time of the epic confrontation high atop the spires of the Empire State Building then you have surely mislaid your enthusiasm for 2D Blast Processing goodness somewhere along the way.
El Viento is a truly excellent platformer laden with unique style, magnificently illustrated storytelling, tight control, aural delight, and an unforgettable ending. (What a surprise!) But perhaps you donít believe me? See for yourself. Go right ahead Ė try not to care about the characters. Attempt to ignore the blissful gameplay. Snicker at the terrible American cover art, even. Go on: a neglected El Viento cart is still lying around somewhere Ė unused and alone Ė silently waiting for a new owner. Isnít it about time you plucked it from the depths of obscurity?
Annet will never forgive you if you donít.
Staff review by Sho (July 19, 2004)
Sho enjoys classic video games, black comedy, and poking people until they explode -- figuratively or otherwise. He also writes a bit.
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