Considered by many to be the premier WiiWare launch title, it's not difficult to see why Frontier's LostWinds has garnered such an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response during recent sneak previews. Knocked up in little over three months, it's a reminder of the kind of offbeat creativity UK development talent is capable of when given an outlet, and when publishers don't interfere. Combining elements of Klonoa and Okami, it's a disarming British love letter to Japanese game development which embarrasses most Wii titles at a stroke. Or waggle.
Before we got down to playing the finished article, Frontier founder and chairman David Braben told us that the decision to self-publish the game via WiiWare rather than the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live Arcade was a decision borne out of the lead designer being a "massive Nintendo fanboy". It also gave the Cambridge-based company a rare chance to cut loose and come up with the kind of quirky game concept that many publishers would have considered too big a risk to put out as a boxed product.
Frontier describes LostWinds as "an enchanting adventure bursting with new gameplay ideas that embrace the innovative controller of the Wii". You could even say that the way the game gives the player control over the wind breathes new life into 2D platform-puzzling, although I wouldn't recommend that because you'll make people cringe. Instead, perhaps you'll say that Frontier has come up with a unique wind-assisted control system that encompasses platforming, combat and puzzling without ever feeling cumbersome or confusing, and with its own visual style that steers comfortably away from anime clich.
LostWinds concerns saving the beautiful land of Mistralis from the wrongdoings of an evil spirit named Balasar. Tasked with finding four chests hidden away throughout the land, you must guide spiky-haired pocket-rocket Toku with the assistance of 'wind spirit' Enril and negotiate a series of beautifully rendered environments, gaining new skills along the way.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of LostWinds control system is how quickly it becomes second nature to pull off complex-sounding actions. With basic left-right movement assigned to the nunchuk, and an auto jump system whenever you reach the edge of a platform, the more complex manouevres are given over to the remote. Rather like Okami, you must physically draw actions on the screen - in this case controlling gusts of wind by holding down the A button and drawing the wind you want to create.
In a basic sense, drawing a vertical line through Toku makes him jump up, and a diagonal line in the required direction to make him leap left or right. Initially, you'll find yourself wandering around, chatting to locals and heading off to shrines to augment your abilities. Along the way, you'll realise that the ability to create a gust of wind isn't purely a cunning jump mechanic, but a puzzle-solving tool which can help whip boulders up onto pressure pads, or direct flames onto wooden doors. Even in combat, gusting becomes useful too, allowing you to smack the little Squawks or Glorbs against the scenery (or drag flames onto them if you're feeling especially evil). Crucially, all of it feels instantly intuitive, and adding extra abilities does little to derail your progress.