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Lost Winds: Winter of the Melodias Review (iOS)

Frontier Developments release of a charming cartoon-styled platform game seemed like a strange choice back in 2008 when the original Lost Winds appeared on the Wii. Even the choice of platform was strange as Nintendo’s line up of downloadable titles was weak in comparison to XBox Live and it seemed like Lost Winds was a game that would have been far more suited to release as an XBLA title. Still, the motion controls were used sensibly and Lost Winds became the hidden gem in the Wii catalogue; a brilliant platformer hidden in Nintendo’s store, nestled between re-releases and over priced NES titles.

Lost Winds eventually popped up on iOS and now today we have the sequel, looking rather gorgeous on Apple’s newest hardware. Its noticeable that this title, perhaps even more so than its predecessor, shows some evidence of its lineage and history. Lost Winds started on the Wii, and it often looks and feels a good deal like Nintendo’s classic Zelda series. In particular, thematically and visually the game evokes the Wind Waker. As one of my personal favourite Zelda games this is a tough comparison for any game, but Winter of the Melodia’s tries its hardest to live up to the competition.

The first thing that hits you when you start is the gorgeous character design. The reason that Lost Winds and its sequel evoke comparisons with Nintendo titles is because they have a similar striking visual style that seems independent of technology or platform and simply charms you.

Tablet and mobile gamers have one deeply held and justifiable anxiety about every game they see transition from console to the mobile arena; will the touch screen controls be terrible? In the case of Lost Winds: Winter of the Melodias, the answer is more complex than in most cases. The game avoids the tragically bad on-screen d-pad and instead opts for a simpler, fairly intuitive alternative. By touching an area of the screen your little on-screen avatar (The wonderfully cute Toku) will move to where you direct him. Meanwhile, holding one side of the screen for a second will make Toku continue to the left or the right without further input from the player, only stopping or changing direction when the player makes another gesture. The games primary mechanic, which involves swiping to create gusts of wind, works simply and well. In truth, this one aspect of the game probably works better on the touch screen than it would with any other input method. A range of special techniques are available through additional unique gesture, such as freezing enemies by touching them with two fingers.

At its most basic, you will be travelling through a 2D level, using gusts of wind to interact with objects in the environment to solve simple puzzles and progress. The simplest of these involve tasks like blowing flame from a torch to an ice wall to melt it and remove it as an obstacle in your path.

As you progress these puzzles get trickier, but its mainly because the games layers on more and more complexity as it goes. The puzzles themselves remain fairly straightforward; rather its the range of different abilities and objects you interact with that increase the complexity. I’ll avoid spoilers, but you pick up an ability that opens up the game substantially and changes how you approach puzzles after a few hours play.

The game world isn’t structured as a series of levels. Rather, you are free to explore the huge areas freely and as a result, if you don’t check your map you can find you are pushing through an area that isn’t progressing the games story. If you do this then eventually you will come up against an obstacle you can’t pass or a dead-end, but the wasted time will be galling. Suffice it to say after this happens a few times you will be far more likely to keep an eye on the big picture and check out your world map often to make sure you’re on the right path.

Early on the concept of a cold winter plays a big part in the game, and as you feel like you are climbing through the game world the environments become colder and colder. Lots of ice and snow puzzles ensue, and a cold meter is used. You need to stay within range of torches and fires to keep warm. While this at first feels like an interesting feature, it quickly becomes frustrating as it changes the pacing of the game. What was a slow, methodical but steady rolling rhythm becomes a frantic dash from one torch to the next. This showcases the weaker aspects of the game. Its always simple to move forward and traverse the environments when the game is progressing more slowly, but when you need to very quickly get to a specific spot the fidelity of the controls become an issue. The games difficulty balance isn’t bad, but at these points the gameplay simply becomes unsatisfying and trying to get Toku to stay in the spot you want him till he heats up is frustrating. It moves from frustrating to infuriating when you need to land on a small platform with your cold meter at almost zero and miss a jump because of woolly controls.

Some of the enemies within the game are also disappointing, such as the black, nebulous blobs. These enemies also feel tonally wrong. You often want to be exploring and experiencing wonder at the lovely environments but instead spend time bouncing annoying enemies around and away from you. The “combat” in the game (such as it is) is largely pointless and mostly involves using parts of the environment to defeat or circumvent these enemies.

There are other issues in the game too. The pause menu looks bizarrely bad with icons that look like place-holders. The puzzles also never really inspire with no real stand-outs and the platforming doesn’t quite work, meaning that neither of the two main elements of gameplay compel you to keep playing. Rather its the games tone, charm and interesting story that keep you playing.

Overall Lost Winds: Winter of the Melodias is a game you probably want to play if you have something to play it on. Its touch-screen controls impact how much fun that you will have, but not so much that they detract from a game that has some gorgeous design, a soaring soundtrack and a solidly entertaining storyline. There aren’t many games with this much artistic integrity on iOS, and if we buy them when they appear maybe there will be more.

7 willing (but windy) winners our of 10

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