It’s not easy to develop a puzzle game that works well on consoles. In fact, there was a time where puzzle games were seen as having relatively little appeal outside of the PC market. Fortunately, the success of games like flOw, Flower, and Braid on consoles has completely debunked that theory. Storm, developed by EKO Software and published by indiePub, was expected by many to be something resembling a fusion of the latter two titles. Unfortunately, the great concept behind this game is sometimes hindered by poor execution.
The basic mechanics of the game are simple enough. Your goal in each level is to guide a seed from a tree to a new home in a patch of fertile soil. Once the seed is planted, it will sprout a new tree and the process repeats until you reach the end of the level. You achieve this by harnessing the power of the weather; summon a gust of wind to blow the seed in the desired direction, call in a rainstorm to create a current to carry it, zap the seed with lighting to make it “jump” over obstacles, and so on. New elements are introduced incrementally, and later in the game you are forced to combine them with the environment and each other in new and creative ways.
For example, striking a patch of dry brush with lightning will cause it to catch fire. You can then use wind to spread the fire to other parts of the environment to clear obstacles. Similarly, creating a rainstorm over an air vent will produce bubbles that can be used to help your seed float to a new destination. Later, you can even create a tornado with the use of wind that will allow you to carry and toss the seed to higher platforms.
The game has 48 levels that are divided evenly into each of the four seasons. Most of the puzzles are well thought-out and reasonably challenging, and its interesting to see how the level design changes with the seasons. Like any good puzzle game, much of the fun here comes from the satisfaction of those “Aha!” moments when, after several tries, the solution finally becomes clear.
That’s why it’s so terribly frustrating that several levels in the game rely not on your problem solving abilities, but on what can only be called luck. Many times I found myself armed with the knowledge of how to complete a level, but hindered by the seed getting stuck on some unseen element of the scenery. That’s fine the first few times; you can reset the seed to its last tree “checkpoint” and try again. But after a dozen tries falling prey to the same random hiccups, I can’t help but think the problem lies with the game and not with me.
What makes it even more annoying is that sometimes a simple reset to the last tree isn’t sufficient to resume progress. As the levels require more complex combinations of weather and environment, timing becomes a factor. For example, you might use a log as a bridge and then destroy it to reach another area. Resetting the seed will not bring back the destroyed log; if anything goes wrong, you’ll need to restart the level in it’s entirety.
These added frustrations are in direct contrast to Storm’s relatively relaxing environments. Although it’s obvious that this isn’t a AAA title, the graphics and soundtrack work together to create a setting that is beautiful and atmospheric, and the sound effects for the weather elements are excellent. There’s even some replay value here; Free Mode is a time trial that lets you compete against yourself and others, and Spirit Mode adds collectable spirits to each level that you must collect within a given time limit.
Storm is a game with a great concept, but a few problems in execution prevent it from realizing its true potential. It’s still worth a try for those with a fondness for unique puzzle games, but gamers who were hoping for the next Flower may be a little disappointed. In addition to requiring patience, skill, and timing, Storm too often requires a fourth element that simply doesn’t suit the genre: luck. This element of randomness detracts from what is otherwise a challenging but enjoyable zen puzzler.