Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: SKONEC Entertainment
Release Date: October 21, 2008
If I do this job long enough, maybe someday I'll understand why developers love to take great game ideas and destroy them with terrible mechanics. Tornado is the sort of game with a fun premise and a lot of promise to be entertaining, but due to some incredibly poor design decisions, it quickly devolves into too much of a mess to possibly be enjoyed. A game that had the potential to be one of the best on handhelds just sputters and dies because somebody forgot that games are meant to be enjoyed.
The premise of Tornado is wacky and light-hearted. A group of anthropomorphic felines known as the Cosmic Cleaners are in the process of tidying up Earth with the help of some controlled tornadoes, when a mysterious figure known only as The Prince suddenly decides to suck the entire planet into a black hole and scatter its remnants across the universe. The Cleaners must find their equipment (and each other) and return the people and landmarks of Earth to their proper locales.
The crew plans to achieve this goal by using tornadoes to suck up all the wayward citizens and send them back home. The game takes a lot of cues from Katamari Damacy, with players starting out with a tiny tornado and then sucking up small items in order to grow bigger and more powerful. Tornadoes can be leveled up five times over the course of a stage, and the higher-level storms can utilize special powers such as a dash move, splitting into two tornadoes to clear the screen, or spinning off in three different directions to nab a lot of smaller items very quickly. The pieces are all in place for an enjoyable Katamari clone with its own hook.
Unfortunately the early promise of the game runs smack into the absolutely game-wrecking story mode. Rather than letting you send your tornado out to suck up as many items as possible within a time limit, the title instead gives you a series of dumb hide-and-seek goals with a timer that is so brutal that I'm pretty sure some missions are physically impossible to pass. For instance, the very first mission tasks you with finding five batteries in four minutes. The task is already hard considering that the camera is zoomed way in so you can't really scout the map and since there are no indicators showing you where to look for batteries you're pretty much on your own to figure out where they're hiding. Even worse, some of the batteries are hidden within large structures that require a high level tornado to move. So in all that you're forced to spend roughly three of your four allotted minutes building up your tornado to a suitable size just to get one battery. Don't forget there are still four more out there you need to find.
As bad as the item hunting missions are, they pale in comparison to the sheer frustration of the levels which require you to track down other members of your team. Once again you have a ridiculously restrictive time limit, and you can bet that the team member you're looking for is going to be hiding in one of the biggest and therefore hardest to move buildings. So once again you have to eat up much of your precious time building up the size of your tornado before you can even start the wild goose chase. And to really stick it to you, the character you are looking for is randomly placed in one of the buildings every time you boot up the level, meaning that just because your buddy Deka wasn't in the Eiffel Tower the last time you sucked up Paris doesn't mean he won't be there this time. Ultimately each stage boils down to dumb luck and trial and error, which is a terrible way to design a game.
I thought after playing the first couple of stages that things couldn't get any worse, but the game actually manages to get even harder and more unfair as you continue. Later stages introduce a superhero who follows you around and constantly blasts you with a laser that slows your tornado to a crawl, as well as a "bad" tornado in a later level that continuously bumps you around the map and saps your energy. I'm pretty sure a bunch of sadists designed this title because there's no way any normal person could find this fun.
To pile on, not only is the gameplay broken, but the fundamental control mechanic is painful and dumb. To spin up your tornado you have to rotate the stylus either clockwise or counter-clockwise on the touch-screen. OK, fair enough, that's kind of a fun and cute way to get things rolling. The problem is that the game doesn't draw the line there, so every time your tornado touches an object, it loses energy. Therefore, in order to keep your funnel of wind powered-up, you must continually draw circles in the direction you want the tornado to go. If it sounds like a sure-fire recipe for carpal tunnel then that's because it is, and after only a couple of levels, you'll likely end up with a sore wrist. Oh, and also there's the fact that every time you fail a level you get kicked back to the very beginning of the game, meaning that you have to sit through all the unskippable producer and developer credits before getting back to the main menu and loading your last save just to retry a fricking stage. Are you starting to see how this game manages to fail on basically every front?
The game's only bright spot is the Arcade mode, where you can jump into a multiplayer match or replay stages you've passed in a sort of free play mode. Multiplayer is simple enough, as you must score more points or collect more objects than your buddy, and free play lets you go back to stages and suck up as much stuff as possible within the time limit. It's a fun Katamari style of play, and if this had been how Story mode worked, this whole game would have been immensely more enjoyable. However, due to the fact that you have to beat a stage in the story before you unlock it in the arcade mode, most gamers will never get to play more than a handful of stages for fun because the title is utterly punishing.
Tornado is a mess of a game, with one gem of a mode buried under a piled of stinky, stinky trash. The fundamental gameplay is insanely difficult, and not in a fair and challenging way but in a cheap and frustrating one. Furthermore, just trying to control the game can lead to wrist pain and possibly even injury, which is the last thing gamers should have to worry about. The premise of the game is fun and entertaining, and if the developers had actually thought about what they were doing and asked the simple question, "Is this fun?" then we likely would have seen a much more appealing finished product. A real tornado is considered a natural disaster, which is pretty much exactly what you could call this game.
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