There are few games that put you in control of a natural disaster, and technically Ignition’s latest DS game Tornado doesn’t either. You’re actually controlling a Space Cat who is a member of the intergalactic garbage disposal squad called the Cosmic Cleaners. An evil entity known only as The Prince has decided to use a black hole to suck up all of Earth’s landmarks, people, animals, plants and buildings and use them to decorate his own world, Planet 69. The Cosmic Cleaners have decided to use their own personal Tornado machines to transport everything back to Earth.
As you can probably tell, plot is not one of Tornado’s strong points. The character design could have been copied from any number of generic American children’s cartoons, and the dialogue is similarly throwaway. So, the presentation certainly won’t grab you, but does the gameplay redeem things?
Tornado’s gameplay style has clearly been inspired by Namco’s excellent Katamari Damacy, and the same principle of collecting objects in order to grow in size, which in turn allows you to collect larger objects, applies here.
There are ten levels in total, set in various countries such as the United Kingdom, Japan, United States, Egypt, France and of course Iraq and Antarctica. These are populated with ‘appropriate’ people and buildings which are depicted in a blocky 3D graphical style that is also reminiscent of Katamari.
Some slight humour manages to shine through, although much of it borders on racial stereotyping. Britain has red phone booths, football players, Buckingham palace guards and a familiar boy on a broomstick. Japan has sumo wrestlers, otaku, Shinto shrines, cherry blossoms and gaudy skyscrapers. Iraq is full of unexploded bombs, American soldiers, camels, palm trees, women in Burqas, men in turbans, and a genie. And obviously Antarctica contains yetis, Eskimos, snowmen, reindeer, huskies and Santa Claus.
There are five levels of size for your Tornado to work through, all of which appear sufficiently swirly. These begin with uprooting smaller objects like trees, cars and people, and culminating in being able to demolish skyscrapers and national landmarks. Depending on the layout of the level, it takes around 30 seconds to get to the third power-level, a minute to achieve the fourth and three minutes to get to full power.
This basic mechanic would have worked just fine, as growing your Tornado and sucking up the range of objects is actually fairly enjoyable, but unfortunately Tornado’s developers made some bafflingly poor design decisions in multiple areas of the game.
Firstly, the controls. To keep your Tornado’s power level from dropping you must make circular motions on the touch-screen almost constantly, as transporting all but the smallest objects will use up some of the Tornado’s energy. It doesn’t take too long for this to result in possibly the worst case of DS hand-cramp since Metroid Prime: Hunters.
Once your Tornado reaches power-level 2 it can use a rather handy dash attack, this becomes essential when trying to knock down larger buildings, to cut a path through a dense cluster of objects or simply get from one side of the map to another. Most DS developers have realised that microphone controls should be optional, or at least infrequent, unfortunately here there is no other way to activate the dash move without blowing into the DS mic.
Besides making you appear like a raving Looney when playing in public, this control method is also imprecise at best. The shoulder buttons are only used for changing from one irritating techno/rock music track to the next, so there doesn’t appear to be any reason why they couldn’t have been used to control the dash instead. The Tornado can be directed with either the d-pad or stylus, and either of these work just fine.
Secondly, the game gives you a strict time limit of between three and six minutes. Once you run out of time (which will happen frequently) the game not only kicks you back to main menu, but actually resets the cartridge, forcing you to sit through all the unskippable logos again and load up your previous save before you can try again. Considering you’ll need to try some levels easily 20 or 30 times this decision is so bizarre that it makes you wonder whether this title was subject to any playtesting at all.
Thirdly, the Story mode of the game provides you with two main types of mission objectives. On the first and third levels you are targeted with finding a certain number of items, one of which is usually contained in a building that can only be toppled with a high-level tornado. The harsh time-limit and relatively close-up camera angle make it impossible to scour the whole level in one go, so you’ll be forced to play several times until you’ve memorised the locations of all items.
As annoying as this may sound, it feels like an evening in a hot-tub with your naked supermodel of choice compared to the other type of objective, which tasks you to find a buddy who is hidden inside a random level-five building somewhere in the level. Combine this randomness with the fact that the top-screen map is only useful for showing you areas that you’ve already cleared of objects, and that you’ll only have time to check a few buildings each time and that any logical method of trial-and error is rendered useless and you’ll soon be praying for a real tornado.
I must have tried the sixth level close to fifty times before my buddy turned up in a building that I had destroyed countless times before. The short sweet relief of success was cut short by the next level having the exact same issue. The fifth level contains the arse-flavoured icing on this indigestible cake, when another tornado appears mid-way through your search. You continue searching only to eventually realise after a few tries that your objective has actually changed to defeating the other tornado without the game bothering to notify you.
The multiplayer mode is hardly worth mentioning as it suffers from the same ridiculous time limits and hopefully the chances of you finding another DS owner with a copy of Tornado will be slimmer than the minimal production cost of the game.
However, Tornado does have an Arcade mode that does away with the idiotic objectives and simply challenges you with clearing away at least 60% of the objects in a level. This feels like a purer expression of the core gameplay, and as such is much more entertaining. Sadly, the time limits still feel too restrictive, and you have to beat a level in Story mode before you unlock it in Arcade mode, by which time you’ll probably slammed your head through your DS screen in frustration.
Tornado is a title that started with a solid base of fun gameplay mechanics and interesting level design and then buried it under a mound of inexplicably terrible design faults that seem like they were created to generate annoyance. It’s a shame to see a game with such potential be ruined by so many unnecessary irritations, but I’m afraid that Tornado sucks.