Tornado (DS) review
"Even when the game isn't tricking you with false level objectives, it can be a drag to play. Simply moving around the screen is frustrating. You have to start by scribbling in circles to build up your meter. Then you can just draw the general route you want to take, but as you heft the landscape into the air, you'll have to occasionally renew your energy lest you turn back into a harmless rodent. When you come up against enemies or large buildings, you actually need to navigate and recharge simultaneously. Furiously scribbling circles in an approximate direction of course means that accuracy is difficult, and you're likely to bounce off objects that are too large for you, making things even more frustrating."
In the game Tornado, Earth's contents have been sucked up by an alien force. Houses, sled dogs, icebergs, and entire nations have vanished into a black hole and now the only way they can all be returned is if a group of critters known as Cosmic Cleaners can turn into ferocious wind storms and blow them all back to the planet's surface. Can these furry little critters save mankind, or are we forever doomed to live in an alternate dimension?
Once you start playing, you'll probably find that you don't care. The 'Story' mode--which you'll need to play through to experience everything the game offers--plays host to far too many issues. After a tutorial that takes about 5 minutes to complete, you're presented with your first real stage. The goal there is to find five batteries that have been scattered throughout the relocated United Kingdom. You'll drift about, bouncing off buildings that are large and in the way--too hefty for you to pass through at first, but fair game in a few minutes--and absorbing smaller objects like trees and park benches until you're substantial enough to tackle clock towers and the like. Most importantly, you'll do all of this within an extremely restrictive time limit.
The clock quickly becomes your most formidable opponent. Even in the first real stage, exploring the map and finding the items (which sometimes blend in with their surroundings) within the allotted span of time proves difficult. It's frustrating when you lose, too, because the game doesn't just take you to a 'Retry' screen, or even to the title screen; it acts like you've just hit a reset button. You'll have to sit through all of the company logos again before you can make another attempt. While it's true that you can pause the action with 2 or 3 seconds remaining and choose to replay the stage without delay, that step shouldn't even be necessary to avoid the tedium that follows each 'Game Over' screen.
Don't think for a second that you won't be seeing much of that screen, either! Even if you're a reasonably skilled gamer, Tornado will catch you by surprise. Mostly that's because of the afore-mentioned timer, but sometimes there are additional issues. For example, one stage asks you to find a member of the Cosmic Cleaners. You have three minutes to do so, since the environment is frigid. So you start looking, but first you have to spend a minute or two just building up your size so that you won't rebound from any architecture you touch. Then, a minute or so into the action, a blustery rival tornado happens upon the scene. Just touching against it bounces you away from whatever you were doing, which can be frustrating as you try to suck up as many structures as possible in the search for your quarry. Then you run out of time and the game informs you that you failed because you didn't defeat your enemy. Yup, it turns out that although the screen tells you that your goal is to find a friend, you're actually just worried about defeating that other tornado. Oops!
Even when the game isn't tricking you with false level objectives, it can be a drag to play. Simply moving around the screen is frustrating. You have to start by scribbling in circles to build up your meter. Then you can just draw the general route you want to take, but as you heft the landscape into the air, you'll have to occasionally renew your energy lest you turn back into a harmless rodent. When you come up against enemies or large buildings, you actually need to navigate and recharge simultaneously. Furiously scribbling circles in an approximate direction of course means that accuracy is difficult, and you're likely to bounce off objects that are too large for you, making things even more frustrating.
To mix things up, the developers also included items you can collect throughout the stages. Finding three gift boxes will give you additional tunes on the soundtrack (which aren't bad), while other boxes reward you in a more immediate sense with special attacks that you can use for a burst of powerful gusts or even lightning bolts. Besides that, you can blow into the microphone once you build up enough mass and perform a dash of sorts, handy for crossing a map more quickly. Such additions are neat, but aren't reliable components of your arsenal. You'll probably decide eventually that they're for the most part a waste of your time.
Technical limitations also pop up occasionally, in the form of noticeable slowdown. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if you're just crawling because a superhero zapped you with his beam (a case of mistaken identity) or because there are too many objects on the screen. It's hard to say why the latter would even factor into the equation, though, since there's never a whole lot of visible motion aside from your huge windstorm, possibly one moving rival and maybe two or three objects that are running around on the ground or circling briefly around you because you just sucked them up in your vortex.
If all of the above grows tiresome for you, you can retreat to the 'Arcade' mode. Unfortunately, it doesn't switch things up enough to serve as an interesting diversion. You still have a timer that's entirely too oppressive, except now the goal is to clear 60% of the map you choose. Only those you have already cleared in the regular 'Story' mode are available, however. Likewise, only those Cosmic Cleaners who you have rescued elsewhere are available for selection.
Tornado could have been a really great game. There's really nothing wrong with the general idea that drives it and there are times when the execution builds on that solid foundation. Unfortunately, the bulk of the experience disappoints. Between technical flaws and a timer that effectively sucks the fun out of nearly every highlight, this is another of those DS titles that easily could have been worth playing... but ultimately isn't.
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 31, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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