First things first: You may look at the score for this review and assume that Tornado is a bad game. It isn’t necessarily. It’s more like a great idea wrapped in bad execution. It’s a game that had potential that got squandered.
Tornado tells the (almost incomprehensible, but still fun) tale of an intergalactic cleaning crew that happens to be around when a black hole takes everyone off of earth. Your friends go missing, and it’s your job to track them down and save Earth from the dastardly villians behind the black hole. Using your tornado machine, you spin around the map and pick up trees, buildings, people, and other things en route to your goal.
The short version of the plot is as follows: Let’s make Katamari Damacy for the DS and see if it sticks. This was not a bad idea, and using a tornado to pick things up instead of rolling them up in a ball was cool. Still, Skonec Entertainment made some fundamental mistakes along the way, and we’ll talk about what they were.
Tornado looks pretty good. On the bottom screen, you’ll see your chosen character as they whirl around the world, and on the top screen, you’ll see a grid of what’s been cleaned on the level and what hasn’t. The various locales you’ll visit look distinct from each other, and you’ll never have a problem figuring out what the objects in the world are.
The tornado that the main characters ride in throughout the game looks pretty good as well, which is good considering that you’re staring at it for most of the game. The one downside is that the DS really can’t handle too many things going on at once, so when you have houses and buildings and trees flying around the screen there is some slowdown.
The sound is handled fairly well. As you pick up items, they’ll make sounds and let you know what you pick up. You’ll hear people yelp, and hear buildings being whisked off to wherever they’re going, and those sound excellent. It’s the music that needs some work. I found myself turning the sound down, it’s so bad. You can find parts of CDs in levels, and if you collect the whole CD you can have a new track to listen to. The question becomes, “Why would you want to?”
Control in Tornado is handled mostly with the touch screen. You draw circles on the screen to make a tornado, and keep drawing the circles to make the tornado bigger and bigger. The game takes great pains to explain that you don’t need to draw the circles fast or press hard on the screen to make them, and it’s a very forgiving system. From time to time, you may need to blow into the microphone to execute a turbo move, but it’s not a gigantic problem, and it makes sense.
The problems start when you try to move. You can drawn circles on the top of the screen to move up, on the left side of the screen to move left, and so on. This system is a little clunky, but you can also use the D-pad to move as well. The problem with using the D-pad is that your hand cramps up badly. On top of that, if you’re left-handed, I would imagine there really isn’t much recourse there.
The idea behind Tornado is a good one. I mean, suck up buildings and people in a tornado? Count me in! If that’s all the game would be about, it would be excellent. However, they added in too much stuff, tried to make their little idea a big one, and fell flat on their faces.
The first big mistake that Skonec made has to do with the objectives in each level. Instead of saying, “Clean up X amount of the game board,” they tell you, “Find Tiny Little Character X.” In most cases, that entails getting your tornado as big as you can, and then picking up one of the biggest items up the map. Sounds straightforward, right?
The problem is you can’t always tell which item you’re supposed to pick up, and your friend isn’t attached to the item. In one level, I picked up the Eiffel Tower just because I could, but still lost the level because I didn’t keep going and pick up my miniscule friend who I couldn’t see underneath the Eiffel Tower.
The next error was making each level be on a strict time limit. There is no time to enjoy the level. You’re racing around the level at top speed, frantically trying to find what you need to find, with no time to actually see what you’re picking up or enjoy the ride. And if the time runs out?
You’re sent all the way back to BEFORE THE TITLE SCREEN.
That’s right, you have to sit through the publisher’s name, then the developer’s name, then the title screen, and then load the game. You cannot skip past or speed up any of it. It was a horrible decision that should have been rectified before it even went out the door.
The last indignity has to do with how many different moves there are. If you blow in the microphone, you’ll do a turbo dash. If you pick up a certain item and then slash the screen horizontally, you’ll make a big tornado. If you pick up another item and slash vertically, you’ll send little tornadoes out. If you pick up a lightning bolt, you can double-tap an enemy to shock him, and so on. This is while you’re spinning the stylus around in circles and trying to avoid whatever enemies (yes, there are enemies) the game throws at you.
I don’t remember seeing any special moves in Katamari Damacy, do you? You know why? Because they left well enough alone! They understood that a good concept doesn’t need jazzing up! YOU’RE A FREAKING TORNADO! What more do you need to add? I mean, sure, a game about cleaning up a world doesn’t sound exciting, but with a little imagination, you can do it! Make a level where you have to clean up a section the size of an arrow to point to where a spaceship should land! Make a level where you have to clean up all the pyramids in Egypt! You don’t need any special moves, because the concept already is special!
Give me a second. I need to take a break.
Much better. I kept playing this game out of duty. Every time I lost a level, I wanted to quit, but I kept on going for you, dear reader. Tornado is fun for a bit, but once they start burying their great initial concept in a morass of extra moves and stupid levels (like a level where a giant bad tornado is bumping you around while the clock keeps on running), it loses its joy.