El Viento (Genesis) review
"When Annet leaps into the air to avoid gangsters' bullets, she lets her bare arms fly loose, ribbons from her hair and waist flowing with the wind as her skirt lifts ever so slightly in the breeze. After falling back down, Annet's slender legs buckle to absorb the impact. That microscopic attention to detail is part of Wolf Team's genius, and Annet's been giving lovesick gamers a cruel jones for close to 15 years now."
Super cute heroine Annet Maya was born in the deepest darkest jungles of Peru (that's why she's got that sexy dark skin), but she spends her time in El Viento searching four of the 48 states (it's 1928, after all) for the evil priest Henry. Two years prior, the godly awesome treasure hunter Earnest Evans — star of his own unforgettable action game — rescued Annet from Henry's bloodthirsty cult and brought her to New York City to live as normal a life as a superheroic grave robber can offer.
Unfortunately, Earnest's kindness made Annet a target; now she's just another way for mob boss Vincente DeMarco to take revenge against his do-gooder rival! But Annet won't go down easily, for the creative minds at Wolf Team have given Annet a refreshing degree of flexibility and speed.
Look! Annet runs like a girl! That's part of why she's so adorable. Whether its the way her body recoils with each boomerang throw or how she supports herself with one arm when she crouches, Annet embodies hand-drawn feminine grace. And these aren't simple two or three-frame animations: when Annet leaps into the air to avoid gangsters' bullets, she lets her bare arms fly loose, ribbons from her hair and waist flowing with the wind as her skirt lifts ever so slightly in the breeze. After falling back to the ground, Annet's slender legs buckle to absorb the impact. That microscopic attention to detail is part of El Viento's genius, and that's one reason why Annet's been giving lovesick gamers a cruel jones for over 15 years.
Our perky heroine's got more than pretty looks; she controls smoothly, too. Annet's surprising agility helps when mobster-packed cars try to run her down, or when racist white slum tenants drop flowerpots, chairs, and ANGRY TEDDY BEARS on her head. Gardyloo! You never know what treasure they'll trash next; one bum accidentally drops an occasional healing salve between the hammers and vases.
After Annet takes down pretty much every hoodlum in New York City, mob boss DeMarco fights Earnest's adopted daughter fair and square, one on one... kind of. When Annet walks through a door in the city — just another door, like all the others — she finds herself in a small, empty room.
La, la, la.
...then Vincente Demarco busts through the wall IN A FRIGGIN' TANK, sending chunks of brick and debris flying through the air! That might seem brutally unfair, but the battle's not quite as imbalanced as it sounds. DeMarco thought he was picking on a helpless little girl, but he's taken on a nimble little sorceress!
Throughout the game, Annet learns five different magics, from a simple fireball to the ultimate Hadouken. By holding the magic button down, Annet gathers her spirit energy in her best imitation of Ryu — but unlike Ryu, she can run and even jump with this big crackling ball of fury cradled in her arms, just waiting to unleash a triple burst of pixellated power. And by "pixellated", what I really mean is that when Annet hurls this glob of gas at an enemy — let's pick something small and unimposing like a vampire bat — the winged little freak EXPLODES in a giant chunky cloud of red, yellow, and orange. This isn't pixellated due to age, this is pixellated due to artistic intent. It's reminiscent of the Atari 2600, and it's a striking contrast to see high-resolution Aryan bikers and dwarven pirates (dwarven pirates?!) burst into gushing puffs of flame.
Early on, these massive explosions are uncommon. By the end of the game, EVERYTHING Annet attacks explodes into a bubbly mess! It's a cool way to further escalate an already exciting game's intensity.
Gorgeous cinematic sequences cap off each level, adding intrigue to the intensity. To Annet's credit, she doesn't spend these scenes delivering long, brooding speeches about her tortured past or whining about the tainted blood flowing through her veins. This is the life she's chosen, and she deals with everything in her own innocent way. Annet's out to protect everyone she meets, even her twisted sister Restiana — a beautiful blonde sorceress, born from Hastur's blood.
What Annet knows — a sad truth she knows better than anyone — is that the fate of Hastur's daughters is to die. They serve only as a sacrificial vessel from which the dark god is violently reborn. Annet wants to protect her sister from this fate.
But that's not what Restiana thinks. Restiana thinks she's going to inherit untold power, and the dark priest Henry is always there to whisper fork-tongued lies in her ear. There's only one way for Annet and Restiana to settle their differences. Trial by combat — the victor is deemed correct in the eyes of the world!
Sister versus sister. Wolf Team's games are filled with some pretentious and overbearing themes, often delivered with an elephant's grace (can anyone forget shooter Sol-Deace's "CLASH OF OIL AND BLOOD"?). It's no accident that El Viento reflects many of the same ideas. The difference is that El Viento conveys its message in an endearing, subtle manner — through action instead of through ham-fisted poetry. Annet's a single source of light born from darkness, but the game doesn't have to spell that out in bold print across the screen to get the idea across. She's simply a determined young girl who knows the difference between right and wrong. Annet sets out to put an end to the cult and their blackhearted ways because that's what heroes do.
It'll be a tough fight. Restiana's placed some of the craziest traps ever imagined in Annet's way, but it's this variety that keeps the game fresh and fun from start to end. Before Annet reaches her power-hungry sister, she'll have to jump on trampolines and leap over fire-spitting totem poles, or perhaps ride rolling boulders across spike-laden pits. With its crazy mix of enemies and obstacles, El Viento never settles into a dull routine!
When Annet finally faces her half-sister, the physical contrast speaks volumes. Annet's appearance is simple but elegant; she's a dark-skinned, small-chested girl whose wardrobe focuses attention to her midriff. Restiana aims for the obvious glamor points: long blonde hair, heavy blue eyeshadow, and a chest that's practically popping out of its silk restraints. It's a battle of innocence against vanity — and Restiana's pride won't let her listen to Annet's advice. Such drama!
Whether it's German millionaire Zigfried acting as knowing mentor or Annet barely containing her puppy love for Earnest, the colorful cast keeps El Viento's story exciting. Through underground pubs (the bartenders mix a dangerous cocktail) and atop gigantic war zeppelins, Annet has to keep fighting. Annet tries to use her magic to save people, but can she save anyone? Or is her power just another tool for murder? After a return encounter with Vincente DeMarco, the conspicuously scarred mob boss puts Annet's ideals to the test. He'll give up his ambitions... but only if she can prove herself. Annet says she wants to protect people? Then she's got to protect the person she loves most — she has to rescue Earnest Evans from a beautiful but ominous temple hidden deep inside the Grand Canyon.
Cue one of Motoi Sakuraba's most enchanting melodies. As with the game's action, you never know what surprises the music holds — after the thrilling stereophonic boss encounter against DeMarco's latest freak contraption, the next level breaks into a soft, almost flutish piece as Annet explores a temple of such elegance that the previous level's flagrant explosions and absurd boss are soon forgotten. By the end of the game, you'll be treated to a fast-paced reprise of the title theme, an intricate industrial montage, and one fantastic final boss track.
From one level to the next, you never know what to expect — one-eyed monsters ripped from Lovecraft's yarns, endless chains of explosives to detonate, old friends reunited, and honorable villains to win over with pure-hearted innocence. El Viento's crowning achievement is in convincing you that it's not predictable and then sucker-punching you in the heart with a sadistically predictable finish.
Not only did El Viento surprise me, but it cruelly forced me to care.
Staff review by Zigfried (April 17, 2005)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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