Thursday, November 24, 2022

LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias

title screen

After replaying LostWinds the other day, I was frankly disillusioned about the game, because I remembered it to be a lot better than it was. However, this may have something to do with its sequel, which is a pretty much everything a sequel should be...

It takes off right where the first game ended and sends you into the curiously named "Summerfalls", where everything is frozen. First thing you notice is that you get to keep all your wind abilities from the first game, imagine that. It's actually rare for this type of Action Adventure to do this, where they usually has to be an excuse why Link, Samus, and co. lose all their stuff and skills at the beginning of the next game. Not so with LostWinds 2. Only the "Jumberella Cape" is gone, which was quite overpowered, because you could just easily fly everywhere, so that's understandable. And of course there weren't that many upgrades in the first game to begin with, but it's still refreshing.

Instead it expands upon what was done in the first game by introducing a variety of new mechanics... The most important one is without a doubt the winter, where at first you need to stay close to lit torches or the cold will hurt you. Here the ability to carry fire with the wind, which was already possible in the first game, finds a new importance. The vortex can also be used to create giant snowballs, which is pretty clever.

And generally, freezing areas are a good idea for a restriction within an Action Adventure title, where for example Breath of the Wild had some potential here, but didn't make much use of it, because you can just simple get the Warm Doublet. Here you will also get the "Oloua Suit" to keep you warm, but you have to earn it by traveling through some cold areas first. I guess, you could even compare it to Metroid Prime 2, where you can't fully explore Dark Aether until you've found the Light Suit and until then you need to stay close to bubbles of light. Except that it doesn't take that long and this game world is a whole lot more pleasant, despite the cold.

a tunnel with water solid frozen, Toku wearing his warm outfit

This comparison isn't even too crazy, because with the winter in Winter of Melodias also comes a "dual world mechanic", where you can change the seasons between summer and winter at certain statues. It's visually impressive Рit makes the whole game world look completely different and the atmosphere fully changes with it, very similar to that one part in Metroid Dread. And story-wise this is achieved by Sont̩, the Spirit of Seasons, where there are multiple other spirits next to Enril, the Spirit of Wind

When it comes to the gameplay, however, the changes revolve around water for the most part. Ponds, lakes, rivers, and falls are all solid frozen in winter, often blocking off your path. Sometimes it's the opposite, where a strong current won't let you get up a hill in summer, but usually you can explore more space during the warm season. Prepare for lots of Melodia Idols found at the bottom of a lake...

So, there is some wasted potential, but overall the game was a great reminder how fantastic changing the seasons in a video game can be. The Zelda series has only done this twice, primarily with Oracle of Seasons, but also with the Mountain Village in Majora's Mask. And there is just a certain sense of wonder about this, where I heavily enjoy the progressing seasons in Animal Crossing: New Horizons as well. I'd love to see another Zelda game, preferably a top-down title, to make use of this idea again. Though, I would also settle for a remake of the Oracle games right now...

playing as Riverin in a temple at the start of the game

Changing between summer and winter is not the sole focus of Winter of the Melodias, however, where the last third of the game introduces a companion, very similar to Medli and Makar from The Wind Waker. Here most of the gameplay takes place in some ruins, which can only be visited during summer, so the game heavily shifts its theme and ideas here.

And this is quite interesting, because it's not a long game. It's less than an hour longer than LostWinds, which took me about two and a half hours to beat, where I had to backtrack quite a bit in both games to collect all Melodia Idols. There are twice as many in the second game to find, but they are as pointless and often hidden very predictably, so there is not much of an improvement here.

You can also now collect letters from your mother, who you are searching for in this game, which deliver some story and therefore are more interesting. But they are usually dropped along the way, so it's not really some secret collectible...

Toku flying over Summerfalls

Like LostWinds, the game also ends after the first major boss battle, where the plot offers a much better resolve and everything feels more wholesome overall, despite the short length. The first game felt more like a demo in comparison.

But... both games talked about this ancient demon king, called "Balasar", who is the root of all the evil in the story. Its introduction may even feel very familiar to Zelda fans, because the depictions in LostWinds even use a similar art style to what Niko and Oshus have been showing you throughout their expositions in the Nintendo DS Zelda games. And Balasar is somewhat reminiscent of Bellum and Malladus, because it's this ancient mystery evil, while there are these different "spirits" of nature opposing him.

And with all that in mind, it seems like it was meant to be a trilogy, where a third game never came to see the light of day, sadly. The story wasn't interesting or exciting by any means, but I would have loved to see what gameplay ideas had come out of a third game, because Winter of the Melodias really stepped things up and brought the game to a whole new level, where for its short length it's packed with ideas.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

LostWinds

Toku in front of a windmill on a hill

LostWinds and its sequel, LostWinds - Winter of the Melodias, are two old WiiWare games, which were made by Frontier Development and got released in 2008 and 2009 respectively. I have played them both on the Nintendo Wii, back when they were fairly new, and I was convinced that I wrote a review somewhere at that time, but I couldn't find anything... So, I decided to play through them again and finally share my thoughts for real.

For this I have used the Steam versions, where they are basically for free during a sale. However, it's noticeable how those are mere dumps of the WiiWare games, after the Nintendo Wii Shop Channel found its end. There are no options in the games whatsoever, where you have to edit some of the game files to change the language, resolution, and controls. It's not difficult to do, but it's somewhat inconvenient. At least it looks prettier on the PC, where the art style has aged really well and already profits from an increased resolution.

Anyway, LostWinds is another "Metroidvania", if you can call it that. But after playing Hollow Knight this feels like soothing for your soul, because it's essentially the entire opposite. It's very short and easy, where you can beat this in one evening, and very relaxed, where the focus is more on puzzling than on combat.

The core gimmick of the game is that you can control the wind via a pointer. This is done with the Wii Remote or your mouse, where you can draw paths for the wind. The game's main character, Toku, can only walk and pick things up, where you have to assist him with the wind wherever you can, as the wind spirit "Enril". At first you can only make him do small hops with the wind, but gradually you will unlock new abilities, where at the end you can just fly anywhere you want.

It can be a bit fiddly, though. Especially using the vortex ability is frustrating at times, because first you have to flip objects into the air and then draw a circle around them, but often they just fall down before you can pull this off. I never really got the hang of it to perform this reliably and dealing with objects handles like a handicapped version of the wizard from the Trine games.

Combat is also entirely done via the wind and can be equally awkward later on. There are only four different enemies in the game and the basic "glorbs" are simply enough to defeat by pushing them against walls or the ground via the wind. It's fun and simple. The ones with leafs around them need you to repeat this process several times. However, later enemies need you to get a bit more creative or even use the vortex, where this can be a problem, especially since Toku is a sitting duck.

You get four hearts and enemies don't instantly do damage, so there is a bit of reaction time to get them off Toku. You can eat fruits to heal up, where Toku takes a bite and then crushes the fruit for some reason, which is funny.

a cherry blossom tree

The game is very atmospheric with calm music and lots of background interactions with the wind. It's enjoyable to sweep over everything and just see what happens. Sadly, this isn't connected to any real secrets, like there were in Donkey Kong Country Returns with the blowing. Here it's just for your amusement, which seems like a missed opportunity, because there is a lot of stuff that could have been done with the mechanic. And sometimes you even expect it to do something special, like reveal an item, but it never does.

There are 24 "hidden" idols in the game to collect, though, with one in each of the sections, which are connected in several ways. Collecting them has no purpose whatsoever other than getting a sense of completion out of it, which is another missed opportunity here. It's really just there as an "incentive" to explore every nookie.

On your journey you will really only go through two different areas: the villages and hills above the ground, as well as an underground cave system. And here things can start to look a bit similar and repetitive.

Overall the game is very linear and even likes to block off paths you're not supposed to take, like Metroid: Other M. Only that it feels even less natural here. At the end there are two things to look for at once, where you have a choice where to go next, but it doesn't really matter. It then all ends after the first and only boss, where the whole game feels more like a demo. It even ends with an advertisement for the sequel...

This will all sound very critical, where it's not a big recommendation. I had fond memories of playing LostWinds originally, however, where it felt like THE title for WiiWare, which was all about small downloadable games on the Wii. It even made me obsess with getting multiple WiiWare Zelda games at the time, which never happened, probably because Nintendo wanted the platform to be for smaller developers and not give them even more competition than what they already had with the Virtual Console.

The Wii's system memory was very limited and Frontier had achieved a lot with something that was just around 33MB (the PC version takes 405MB for some reason, where maybe the textures got increased in size). The mechanic of drawing the wind in a platforming game was also quite innovative at the time and it's very much a charming game. For the small price (until November 29th you can get both games for 2.99€ on Steam) there isn't much you can do wrong here. So, if you're looking for a small and relaxed Metroidvania for in between, then LostWinds may be worth a shot.

The sequel is also more interesting with its season mechanic, but we will look at this game in a separate post, coming soon.