I couldn't put my finger on why this iOS port of LostWinds felt so wrong.
I had fond memories of this enchanting Wii adventure, in which you used your Wii Remote to create gusts of wind, buoying hero Toku across gaps, trapping enemies in mini-vortexes, and guiding a flame through a slipstream of air.
Nintendo's controller let you reach into this watercolour world with both precision and playfulness. You could despatch enemies in a flurry of swipes and waggles, or just toy with bushes and streams by whipping up a tiny breeze.
I remembered it being responsive and reliable, making you at one with the wind and the gameworld.Throw caution to the...
So why was this iPhone and iPad re-release so often bogged down in frustration? Was I just misremembering my experience on Wii?
Well, after the umpteenth time trying to wrestle a boulder onto a pressure plate, or maybe during the hair-wrenching final boss, I booted up the Wii game to make sure my memory wasn't clouded.
I hadn't gone mad. There was one special ingredient that Frontier ditched in the transition to mobile that makes all the difference.
It's not the pearly white buttons, nor the analogue stick, but the fact that every time you start drawing a gust of wind the game momentarily pauses, giving you a chance to draw out your brisk gust or your snaking slipstream or your circular vortex.
In this iOS adaptation the game runs in real time, and you're asked to juggle movement and wind-drawing in unison.
For much of the time you'll hardly notice the change. Leaping over chasms or dealing with the odd gloopy enemy (essentially throwing them in the air and slamming them into the ground) doesn't require such speedy reflexes. But it's in the game's more demanding and finicky areas that the controls break down.
Take this example. On the Wii, the vortex manoeuvre involved popping a boulder up then pausing time to draw a circle around it. On iOS, however, you need to catch the leaping object in mid-air with a pinch of your fingers. This can be maddeningly ineffective, and the problem rears its head a little too often during fights.Run like the...
This whole rambling preamble about disappointing controls is necessary, because LostWinds is otherwise such a wondrous treat. Knocked up in a matter of months during a marathon game jam season at Frontier, this breezy adventure is an obvious nod to favourite Japanese games of the past.
There's plenty of debt paid to Zelda and Metroid in here, as well as to more obscure and offbeat Eastern treasures like Okami, Klonoa, and Kirby. It calls on these games in its picturesque landscapes, its childlike exploration, and its patient, quiet atmosphere. If you didn't know it was built by Brits from Cambridge, you'd swear it was kindled in the heart of Kyoto.
LostWinds is also wonderfully inventive, and it squeezes plenty of imaginative ideas into its painfully short three-hour life.
You might come across a sapling poking out of the dirt, for example. If you splash water onto it (by creating a breeze at a nearby waterfall) it'll grow into a useful plant like a sycamore seed that can carry you in the wind, or a belching pitcher plant that can spit you into the air. Or you can burn plants with fire to turn them into seeds, which you can carry to other patches of ground.
It's smart ideas like this that make exploring the fairytale world of Mistralis fun. There are also constant updates to Toku's skills that let him produce slipstreams of air, wield miniature vortexes, and even pop on a little cape to ride the wind like a flying squirrel. Finding the 20-odd hidden tokens is often an enjoyable diversion, too.Sail close to the...
The only misstep is the last boss. LostWinds is never really about combat - there are only about three types of enemies, and dispatching them is just a formality to get out of the way while you deal with the thrust of the game, which is exploration and puzzle-solving.
So to force you to go head-on with a massive monster at the end seems odd. And the controls really suffer in this section.
Otherwise, LostWinds is a wondrous, breezy treat that's fun to spend an afternoon with or dip into from time to time. It's creative and charming, and whips up a beautiful world that you'll want to be part of, if only for a fleeting moment.