El Viento (Genesis) review
"It’s not like I was a complete stranger to El Viento. Even before I first played it, I felt like I knew just about everything about the game. A slew of vivid works describing wonderfully-drawn cinemas and creative levels chock full of innovative and bizarre monsters and obstacles are scattered over the net with one thing in common — they all rate this game a Bo Derek-like “10”. "
It’s not like I was a complete stranger to El Viento. Even before I first played it, I felt like I knew just about everything about the game. A slew of vivid works describing wonderfully-drawn cinemas and creative levels chock full of innovative and bizarre monsters and obstacles are scattered over the net with one thing in common — they all rate this game a Bo Derek-like “10”.
That sort of devotion to a game is more than enough to wake up the inner skeptic in me, as I’ve played enough games to know that the truly great ones are few and far between. When I first started playing El Viento, I attacked it with a critic’s eye, looking for every little thing that could possibly be construed as a failure.
I ended up with a pretty short list.
Really, the only thing I didn’t like about this Wolf Team masterpiece for the Genesis was that there were too many characters for the small amount of plot you got between each level. Without giving anything away, after beating most bosses, you get a brief cutscene featuring Annet (your hero) chatting with one of the game’s other characters — who, after telling Annet where to go next, may or may not ever be seen again. In fact, by the time I’d finished, I was left in the dark as to the fates of two members of the supporting cast. And, let’s face it, when so much effort is put into crafting a plot for a game (just wait a couple of moments on the “game start” screen to see what I mean), a little more fleshing out could only be a positive, right?
As the game begin, Annet is attempting to prevent a cult from resurrecting the evil god Hastur in 1928. While applying both muscle and magic through El Viento’s eight levels, your young heroine will encounter a motley crew of allies, enemies and enigmatic characters that could be either. A heated discussion with rival Restiana, a powerful lass looking to use Hastur’s power to become a goddess, may quickly be followed by a heartfelt plea begging mob boss Vincente to cease his support of the cult. While most of these characters have little depth within the confines of their brief appearances on-screen, they do a serviceable job of advancing the plot and providing some continuity between the levels.
And that is where El Viento truly shines. There are scant few similarities between any of the game’s eight levels, forcing you to constantly tinker with your style of play in order to survive. Initially, things seem pretty straight-forward. Annet ambles through a dingy city, using her boomerang-like primary weapon to dismantle a seemingly never-ending horde of mobsters. After opening a door at the end of the stage, she’s met by a heavily-armed tank. Perhaps that final foe is a bit out-of-place for a game set in the “Roarin’ 20s”, but overall, El Viento seems pretty grounded in reality to this point.
That “reality” will take a one-way trip to the Twilight Zone in future levels, though, as the majority of the sights you’ll see throughout the rest of the game are straight out of a hallucination. Annet will ride dolphins into battle with huge octopi ripped right out of an Atari 2600’s graphics processor, fight a demon in a lethal take on the classic shell game (where it stops, nobody knows....) and scale a skyscraper while being accosted by an infinite horde of little winged critters. Creativity is definitely one of Wolf Team’s strong suits.
But all that creativity would be for naught if the game was clunky, boring or repetitive — something those designers were well aware of. As you discover how well Annet controls, you’ll realize that Wolf Team’s excellent execution of the game’s mechanics rivals their skill at creating diverse themes. Your heroine responds quickly and efficiently to your every command, allowing you to focus solely on taking in the sights of each level.
Such as the fourth stage, for example. After riding a dolphin past hordes of bomb-throwers and the aforementioned octopi, you disembark your loyal steed at a large oceanic vessel. Once inside, you’ll find only a scant few enemies. Don’t think this part of the level is a walk in the park, though, as there are tons of damaging spikes as well as hordes of obstructions to dispose of. The inside of this tanker is essentially a maze, with you scurrying through narrow, trap-filled corridors looking for the way to the heart of the ship. You’ll have to execute flawless control over Annet as she jumps and dashes her way past obstacles — or watch her perish on a bed of spikes.
And nothing you’ve done before or will do after that stage will remind you in any way of those two challenges. You’ll have to contend with conveyor belts, ice dragons, switches that open walls and a gelatinous cube — but you’ll only find dolphins and maze-like boats in one level! You can say that about every level, to be honest. El Viento doesn’t repeat its challenges. Once you’ve overcome one obstacle, you WILL be faced with something completely different.
As as these new obstacles confront you, it will become necessary to modify Annet’s fighting style. Early in the game, you have two forms of attack — her boomerang and a small fireball. The boomerang moves quickly and is more than sufficient to take care of early challenges, while the fireball is a bit slower and can only be cast a handful of times before you have to wait a couple of seconds for your magic meter to recharge. It doesn’t take much thought to figure out the boomerang is the way to go when pummeling the first level’s mobsters.
But as you fight through levels, Annet gets more magic spells and a longer meter. Meanwhile, enemies get too powerful to be quickly eliminated with a couple of boomerang strikes. As this happens, the intelligent player will begin to realize their salvation lies in knowing which of Annet’s (eventual) five spells is best-suited for each situation — while the boomerang is relegated to mop-up duty on only the weakest of foes.
When you combine imaginative, never-repetitive levels with the way you have to constantly evolve your style of play, it’s easy to consider El Viento as one of the best action titles of the 16-bit era. It just seems to have a little bit of everything, creating a game that never becomes stale — no matter how many times it is experienced.
Community review by overdrive (February 24, 2005)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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