It's a mystery how many people would have bet on a turbo-charged hedgehog, or a bandicoot with a couple screws loose. Who knew that controlling a pair of outrageous plumbers would be such a hit? How about taking the reins of tornado, of all things? That's exactly what Konami hopes will steal the spotlight this season, with their latest title for the Nintendo Wii, Tornado Outbreak. However, the courageous Zephyr alongside captain Nimbus and his squad of Wind Warriors are more likely to rip the spotlight out of the ground before standing in it, but that's just what you'd expect from a swarm of tornados, right?
A game about a tornado destroying towns and cities might seem in bad taste, but Tornado Outbreak takes a Saturday-morning-cartoon approach to the premise that really couldn't be more light-hearted than it is. Zephyr is the second in command of the Wind Warriors, beings that look like a small twister with a torso, arms and head sticking out the top. The Wind Warriors travel through space with the universal task of creating atmospheres on lifeless planets, but when they stumble upon an enormous, injured being by the name of Omegaton, the Wind Warriors have a change of plans. Nimbus, the leader of the Wind Warriors, had been prepping Zephyr to become their new leader, so with his newfound role, Zephyr issues his first order, to help Omegaton.
Tornado Outbreak has a rather imaginative plot wrapped out its premise, but wait, it gets weirder. Omegaton is the greatest hero of a backwards dimension that he describes as an anti-matter universe. He's been stripped of his six orbs of power and banished to Zephyr's universe, and when the Wind Warriors decide to help Omegaton, they wind up heading to Earth, where Omegaton's enemies have buried the orbs. However, Zephyr and the Wind Warrior's can't stand the UV rays from the sun, so Omegaton gives them the Light Weight Object Amalgam Device, or L.O.A.D. Starr for short. In short, the L.O.A.D. Starr absorbs UV rays for a limited enough time that Zephyr and the Wind Warriors can seek out and eliminate Omegaton's enemies, find the orbs, and fight to get them back.
It's fairly understandable that justifying running around as a tornado destroying everything needs a ridiculous plot line to match, and Tornado Outbreak does a surprisingly great job of making it work with animated cutscenes, strong dialogue, top notch voice acting, and characters that a young audience can really love. Subsequently the story and theme add up to a believable reason for all the gameplay elements present in Tornado Outbreak. Omegaton's enemies have sent monsters call Fire Flyers to Earth to defend the orbs, and they're hiding all over the place, in tents, in cars, in enormous ferris wheels and buildings, and so on. By starting out as a tiny twister, blowing away plants and rocks, Zephyr picks up more and more momentum, becoming a bigger and bigger tornado, all the while stirring up and absorbing the Fire Flyers.
As Zephyr and the Wind Warriors will perish if they step into the sunlight, in every level of the game they make use of the L.O.A.D. Starr. The L.O.A.D. Starr affectively creates a wide, shaded area that Zephyr and crew can run around in, with sunlight acting as the level's boundaries. However, the L.O.A.D. Starr only works for about three minutes before it needs recharging. There are ten themed levels in the game, with three zones and a boss battle to each, and with the L.O.A.D. Starr in use, Zephyr is tasked with completing each zone in that limited amount of time. Luckily for Zephyr though, destroying larger and larger objects allows him to collect more and more Fire Flyers as he traverses a zone. Periodically amassing a number of Fire Flyers before absorbing them, allows the L.O.A.D. Starr to be recharted, and thus adding time to the count down clock. Each zone requires a minimum of 50 Fire Flyers to be absorbed before progressing to the next, and it makes for some quite frantic gameplay. Players are pushed to make a powerful tornado before time runs out, driving them to work their way from a small twister sweeping up tiny object to a huge tornado taking out houses and more, as fast as they can. Gameplay gets a bit more depth throughout the game with the addition of jumping and dashing as well. Jumping on objects destroys them quicker, and dashing is a saviour when Zephyr is tight for time.
If anything, Tornado Outbreak is based on momentum. When Zephyr is constantly chaining together objects to destroy, and strategically absorbing Fire Flyers, the game is fluid in its destruction. However, the game is no cake walk, as a small twister can't take out a car until it's big enough, it's constantly a race to grow Zephyr's twister to take out larger object. It's when players can't find small enough objects to take out to grow that things can go downhill quick. Nonetheless, after completing each zone to a level, gameplay switches up for a boss battle that adds another challenging layer to the game.
Graphically speaking, Tornado Outbreak does an admirable job on the Wii. The cartoon art style looks good, and the animation of objects blowing up and pieces flying around is a nice touch. Players' only indication that their twister is big enough to destroy an object is when the object starts shaking in the wind, further putting the animation to good use. The game's musical score is also very suiting and changes with the themed levels to match.
Despite its positives, Tornado Outbreak does a have drawbacks. As Zephyr's tornado grows, sometimes it'll get so large that the tornado itself blocks the camera's view of what lies ahead. It's frustrating to accidentally run into sunlight and burn out when there was little Zephyr could have done to actually see it coming. Replayability is also fairly low for the game as once complete, the only thing left to do is go back and master each level. There's no multiplayer, no mini-games, the only mode present in the game is the story mode, which can be played with drop-in co-operative play. The game is however paced very well, has some pretty good controls, and really surprises, in a good way, in terms of its level of presentation.
Tornado Outbreak is a charming game. While its gameplay may sound remarkably similar to the Katamari Damacy series, it does enough to differentiate itself and be its own game. A well executed, light hearted story alongside fun and challenging gameplay make the game really shine, but there is little replayability and sometimes the camera can become frustrating. The game is perfectly suited for younger gamers, but that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed by all. Hopefully Tornado Outbreak twists into a series, as there's plenty of material to build from. Then, just maybe, Zephyr and the Wind Warriors will really make a name for themselves.