Version tested: Wii
I played through the sequel to LostWinds while coming down with a cold - firmly wedged into an armchair, wearing my best Sherlock Holmes dressing gown, and gently lurking within that meandering, slightly introspective fug brought on by too much Lemsip. It turned out to be the perfect state in which to appreciate Frontier's latest blustery charmer, but enjoyment of the game is by no means limited to whether you're feeling a peaky. LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias is a lovely game, building on the strengths of the original, yet finding time to respond to most of the lingering gripes. If this is the kind of thing WiiWare can do, let's have some more of it, frankly.
The most regular criticism levelled at Toku's first adventure was that it was too short: a nice position for Frontier to be in, with its tacit acceptance that the core of the experience was pretty solid. It's a complaint LostWinds 2 has taken to heart, and the first sign that this is a weightier chunk of whimsy comes with the plot. Toku's mother Magdi has gone missing in the midst of an archaeological expedition, and the quest to find her will take the young boy and his chirpy wind spirit companion to the curiously named Summerfalls Village, a frozen outpost menaced by mysterious snow monsters, nestled on the edge of the ancient ruins of Melodia City. As the frightening fate of the Melodias themselves becomes increasingly clear, the mission becomes a race against time, and that, in turn, brings Toku into conflict with an old foe.
By necessity, then, it's a bigger adventure, and - an admission that many players found navigating the original title's snug world something of a challenge at times - one of the first new features Winter of the Melodias introduces is a map. That by itself shouldn't feel like a huge change, but it allows the game a potential for sophistication that otherwise wouldn't have been possible. It's an opportunity Frontier runs with, creating a complex network of environments where each level is often a single ingenious puzzle, whether you're patiently coaxing a flickering flame across a maze of torches or struggling to awaken ancient machines.
On top of such a promising basis, a handful of new powers allow the designers to be truly devious, most noticeably once Toku's been granted the ability to switch seasons at specific shrines in each level, transforming the game world from biting winter to lazy summer: sometimes opening paths by melting walls of solid ice, sometimes closing them, by turning potential walkways into slippery streams, but always making old areas seem new and surprising. Toku can swim on this outing, as well, bringing into reach a number of subterranean caves and hidden grottoes.
More important, however, are new wind powers like the Cyclone, a buzzing column of air summoned from the ground with a pinch of A and B, and a swift shake of the remote. The Cyclone adds a handful of new options to a game that was already becoming something of a science experiment, allowing you to dig through rocks, and draw water up into clouds to move it about, draining pits, or filling them with a sudden burst of rain. Meanwhile, old moves like Vortex can spin falling snow into balls, useful for shattering icicles and weighting down switches, while, as the game grinds towards its conclusion, Gust can be used to... Um, best not to say, actually.
It's still a small set of tools, then, but they're fiercely versatile, everything you're presented with capable of a range of different uses, and while there are one or two sticking points during the adventure, there are few puzzles that can't be solved with a few minutes' pleasant mucking about. Toku's wind powers also lead to some enjoyably vicious knockabout fights with a new gaggle of enemies, including a nasty variety of mutated earwig, a fiery twist on an old baddie, and the new giant Glorb, whose aggressive wobbling attacks are both terrifying and hilarious to watch.
It's a tightly designed adventure, in other words, and although I'm not willing to mention Winter of the Melodias and its season-switching intricacies in same breath as Link to the Past, Frontier's game certainly makes a decent My First Metroid, bringing the environment and Toku's powers together in a series of clever set-pieces while the map grows ever busier as his agility increases. Meanwhile, the game's ancient ruins and empty caverns ensure that Winter of the Melodias hasn't just captured the geographical elegance of Samus Aran's adventures, but a little of their loneliness too.
And their beauty: from the luminous blue ice caves of winter, to the thick-aired, almost swampy greens of summer, and the stately golden ruins and nasty industrial sewers of the Melodia City, Winter of the Melodias presents a far more varied world, and a far more involving journey through it. Kicking off with the last game's reformed villain Magmok giving Toku a boost up through mountain ranges, and filled with simple touches like the regular discovery of pages from Magdi's diary, meaning the backstory unspools as the plot progresses, the narrative is every bit as considered as the artwork, resulting in an elegant and rather creepy story that zips towards a poignant conclusion.
A few irritations remain, of course. Looking after Toku while gusting objects around is still a little fiddly at moments, and, despite the map, there may be a few occasions where you may doubt whether you're on the right path (even though you generally will be). On top of that there are two awkward spells of brief backtracking towards the end of the journey, justified somewhat by the transformative powers of the new toys you've just been given.
Overall, however, these are small prices to pay for something that's otherwise so carefully constructed. The 100th WiiWare title in the UK, Winter of the Melodias is one of its best, too. A few hours longer than the first game, if that's the kind of detail you're interested in, Frontier's sequel is also a lot more complex and dynamic, and yet it's managed to retain the same unforced charm. With its cherry blossom, spindly shrines and gentle characters, the original LostWinds always seemed worryingly delicate in its prettiness: this instalment proves that the series is robust enough to withstand a real adventure.
9 / 10