Storm

Nature's a bitch. I know, not a very popular stance, but one I stand by. Tsunamis, lightning strikes, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes. All made by nature (or Sean Connery if you've ever seen the other The Avengers... it's cool, we don't judge here) and all a pain in our collective asses.

But what if you could control the weather (on a more local scale, not one worthy of a Razzie nomination). What would you do? If the answer to that was help a young seed, full of hope and buzzing with life, get from his birth tree to another patch of fertile soil to continue the majesty that is the circle of life, I'd first ask why? Then I would recommend you play Storm, cause that's exactly what it suggests you do with your new mutant like powers.

Starting with a newly birthed seed, who begins it's life in the care of the vivid greens of spring, Storm tasks you with moving around some really stunning levels with the help of wind, rain, and lightning. All three powers serve as both means of locomotion in ferrying your seed towards its destination, and each has puzzle uses as well. These extra uses become essential in later levels, especially when you begin traveling through the rest of the seasons.

Storm starts especially tranquil and benign, slowly introducing the scale and scope of its elemental puzzles as you work your way through the seasons. Each season contains around twelve puzzles, with Spring, being the first, easily packing in the most content as the various powers are introduced. The three seasons that follow, Summer, Fall, and Winter, mainly introduce some seasonal concepts, like brush fires for Summer, and Ice/Snow for Winter, each adding a little bit of an extra kick to the formula.

Each power itself has several levels of strength, with each requiring an extra button press for activation. I played the majority of the game using an Xbox 360 controller (though mouse and keyboard work just as well), each power was mapped to a face button, so pressing X once activated a light rain storm, with subsequent pushes adding more and more water when available.

Levels are fairly linear in design, with their being only one correct way to get through it, though experimenting with the various powers may offer a little give and take on exactly how close you have to follow the path. You can scan the entire level from beginning to end, even before dropping your seed from its home plant, and many of the scenes have mini-checkpoints, additional patches of fertile soil which produce another tree, to serve as buffers between individual puzzles.

While a mid-point tree is nice, Storm drops the ball when it comes to experimentation and restarting a level. As a central tenant of any puzzle game, especially one dealing with movement and physics, certain things have to be tried multiple times in order for the correct sequence of events to be found. The mid-point tree serves as a checkpoint system for the seed itself, which is incredibly useful when you manage to get it stuck, or destroyed, as either holding down the reset key (or B on the controller) sends the tree back to its tree of origin. However, many puzzles contain destructible terrain that does not reset, so a mistake there means starting the entire level over.

Is it a huge problem? No, but it is an inconvenience, especially when some of the puzzles are multistage operations, requiring precise timing with seed movement and power integration. When you're on the third step, and you need to reset the entire puzzle because some rocks came down in the wrong order, it really serves as a stop in the thinking process. I find that puzzle games seem easier when I can build upon successes, following up one challenge success with another, building a kind of momentum. When that gets interrupted because I have to repeat already solved portions, it serves to break the creative flow, leaving me with nothing but mean, grumbling, under my breath comments for that poor seed.

The game also takes a little bit of a misstep when it introducing new content or new powers, relegating that information to a hint log. While good for the purposes of reminding oneself on how to perform a certain action or use a power, it's not good when essential information you've never seen before is only introduced within a menu. For example, Fall starts with what looks like a simple wind puzzle. Scrolling the map, I see that wind is the only power available (other puzzles scatter additional powers or power upgrades throughout the level, which the seed collects as you move it around), but the seed gets stuck at the bottom of the first wall, which is to steep for my strongest wind to get it over. The answer is to form a tornado, which at this point I have never done, nor needed. There was no pop up introducing this new power, but there was a new entry in the hint log.

Moving away from those two gripes, Storm never ceases to amaze with it's staggering beauty. I am a sucker for landscape art, and Storm is 49 levels of some of the most beautiful pieces I have seen in a while. Each is beautifully lit, mixing out door vistas some inside looks at caves (conveniently filled with little bats). Landscape relating directly to puzzles is also easy to see, with Summer's dry grass giving of wisps of smoke to show it's flammability, or crumbling rocks shaking and shuttering to show that a strong stoke of lighting will bring them down. Water looks especially good, flowing down slopes or filling holes, revealing inconsistencies in the terrain that weren't apparent upon casual observation.

The puzzles themselves are challenging, but never hard or impossible. One, located in summer, required a bit of sleep and an “aha” moment upon awakening from a storm filled dream, but overall, fans of puzzle games should find this one a pleasant diversion from other gaming pleasures. Extra difficulty can be culled from Storm through its Free Play and Spirit levels. Both allow access to any levels already unlocked during “Story” mode. Free Play only goes so far as to add a clock, allowing some goal setting in regards to timed puzzle solving, but Spirit goes a step further and changes the goal for each level. Presenting the player with a “spirit ring” somewhere in the level, players must tag it with their seed, which then splits the ring into different elemental spirits which need to be collected the same way.

That Storm is a pleasant diversion is ultimately both a compliment and a failing. Storm is beautiful, thoughtful, and tranquil, providing some nice puzzle content to work through. It stutters a bit with checkpoints and introducing new info, but it's never enough to completely derail its over all package. Though not overly gripping, Storm is worth more then a cursory look through a rain-slicked window.

Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!