LostWinds is without doubt the premier WiiWare title currently available on Nintendo's new service. It's also a shining example of a small developer making the most of Nintendo's console, in ways massive publishers have often failed to do over the past few years. While the game's brief three-hour play-time flies by, there's no better way to spend 1000 Wii Points.
You play as Toku, a young lad living in the land of Mistralis. All isn't well in the land, with evil spirit Balasar threatening to unleash his evil. It's pretty typical fantasy stuff, but it's got a fairytale-like feel that matches the dream-like visuals. At the start of the game Toku is joined by Enril, the wind spirit, allowing you to use the Wii Remote to control air.
Your adventure requires you to find four chests hidden in the world, and to do so you're going to need to master the way of the wind. Your on-screen pointer controls the wind, so wave it about and you'll cause a breeze to run across the screen, rustling bushes and leaves in trees. Hold down A, swing the Wii Remote and then release A, and you'll cause a stronger burst of wind, able to manipulate Toku and objects in the environment.
The game is built around this concept. Toku can't do much himself other than climb up onto low ledges, but sweep him up in a gust and he'll be able to reach higher platforms. Holding A also slows the game down to a snail's pace, allowing you time to reposition the pointer and perform another sweep, effectively allowing you to juggle Toku in the air to cross larger gaps.
Sweep into a flame and the fire will be pushed to the side, burning what lies in its path - ideal if you need to burn down a door. If a flower needs water, simply sweep through a nearby waterfall and water droplets will be pushed to the side and onto the dying plant, making it come to life once again. You can even use wind to attack enemies by flinging them into walls or whatever else takes your fancy.
To begin with you expect LostWinds to play like a standard 2D platformer, and when you find out that you can't jump it's initially quite jarring. But soon you won't care as you'll be swooshing your Wii Remote pointer across the screen with far more style than a simple jump and double jump mechanic could ever allow. Little touches like cushioning a long fall by creating a breeze beneath Toku add to the feeling that LostWinds has been created by a team that really knows what it's doing.
As the game progresses you'll gain access to new abilities that let you explore the game world more easily and manipulate objects in new ways, all the time making excellent use of the Wii Remote. Once you're over the initial bemusement felt in the opening five minutes something clicks and you realise that the control system Frontier has created is one of the best of any released Wii game.
I wasn't expecting the early WiiWare games to be up to much visually, but LostWinds not only manages to exceed those expectations by some way but also look more unique and stylish than most full-price Wii games on the market. The blend of 3D visuals with 2D gameplay works brilliantly and everything is bathed in a warm dreamy light. Characters are simplistic, but full of character the like of which we don't often see outside of Japanese development studios. There's the odd moment of slowdown, but on the whole you'll find it hard to criticise LostWinds' presentation.
The biggest complaint that can be levelled at LostWinds is its measly three-hour length - four at max if you take things slowly. Given its low price perhaps we shouldn't have expected a game of six to seven hours, but when the end arrives it's hard not to be disappointed. If you own a Wii you owe it to yourself to give LostWinds a whirl, even though you'll be finished before you've really began.