Game Review: Tornado Outbreak (Konami / Loose Cannon Studios)

This review is for the XBOX 360 version of the game.

 Screenshot

Where’s Judy Garland when you need her?

Its been quite a while since I’ve written a review for a game – ah, the heady halcyon days of being a writer for Your Sinclair magazine seem so far away in the past. (And frankly they are; that was 16 years ago, so if you remember that mag, you’re getting old). But I really wanted to write a review for this one. Especially because there don’t seem to be any out there. (I don’t want it to fall through the cracks either – a lot of people I love worked very hard on this one, and they deserve some kudos for their work).

 

Cumulonimbus? Storm? Vortex? I can’t tell these guys apart.

So What Is It?

You play one of a mighty band of Wind Warriors, set out to help their intergalactic friend in a story which is at best over-complicated, and at worse teutonically over-complicated. It’s probably easiest to look at it this way:

  • You’re a tornado.
  • You get points by sucking up things from the landscape.

It’s pretty much a hoover-‘em-up, in the best tradition of Katamari Damacy, and all of its spawned ilk. Except instead of rolling around a ball, you’re a little guy who carries around his own personal tornado. Kind of like having the tornado-in-a-can from Mystery Men, or Taz the Tazmanian Devil on crank.

You start out as a little dust devil, and as you pick up more stuff, you become much bigger. Wayyy bigger. As you grow, you can suck up a wider swathe of the landscape around you, like Robin Williams trying to clean up after sneezing into his lines of coke.

Small things abound to suck up at first – plants, rocks, bushes – and quickly you start moving onto larger fare, including tanks, cyclotrons, Elvis impersonators, and most of the Vegas strip. Nothing can stand in your path, and everything satisfyingly (and sometimes comically) breaks into a bajillion pieces as you strafe past it. Or gets stripped to its underwear. Depends on what you zip past ;-)

Z-Axis of Gameplay

So you’re probably thinking “OK, I get it. It’s a Katamari clone. Where’s the pizzazz? Where’s the elan? Where the hell is the new gameplay that allegedly gets gamers salivating?” (As if a well-executed game wasn’t enough in these days of very hit-and-miss titles).

Ends up that the reason you’re in the middle of all this is because some nasty mischevious elementals called “Fire Fliers” are running around causing all kinds of havoc. You’ve got to hunt them out and get them before they turn the Earth’s crust into the kind of lava-spilling soupy mess that extraterrestrials love to inflict on us. Except there’s no Will Smith coming to save the day.

Luau! Luau! Luau!

The FireFliers (which you have to collect against a time limit to make it to the next level) add a new dimension to the gameplay. Holding the right trigger lets you suck them up and hold them in place; the more you can string together, the more time you get added to your clock when you finally release it.

Ah, but there’s a catch. The longer you hold the trigger down, the more your tornado slows down, until you’re moving at a crawl, desperately trying to string together the last piece of your combo. Instead of just being a hunt around the world to find the next bigger thing to hoover up, this adds an element of strategy as you try to balance adding time to your clock with getting quickly around the level.

As you make it through the game, more moves become available to your tornado (stomping and ramming), unlocking other gameplay features.

There’s also a race mode which comes before the boss battle in a way that’s very reminiscent from the old 80s Aliens game (where you fly through the pipe to land your dropship at the start) or the chill-out mini-game in the middle of Tempest 2000.

Funnily enough, when it rains like this at MY barbeques, the tiki torches never stay lit like that.

Speaking of boss battles; it’s a button mashing frenzy as you try to take out the totems, and a kind of mini game of Frogger as you try to make your way to them across the landscape, dodging fiery missiles and patches of sunlight which will fry your tornado.

So What’s The Skinny?

All in all, this isn’t really a next-gen game. But that’s ok. It looks great even if it doesn’t have specular lighting and normal maps everywhere – and to be honest, like Katamari (there goes that comparison again), it would probably suffer from looking flashy and shiny. It also doesn’t matter, because there’s a huge amount of particles, debris and flying cows hurling through the air at any time.

The game suffers a little from having you stay in the dark the whole time (so that your tornado doesn’t fry, and also to hang a lampshade on the boundary on the playing field). So everything looks a little gloomy at times, but I can excuse that.

There’s a bit of depth of field here and there, and the draw distance is pretty cool. Audio is pretty neat, with a great bombastic cinematic soundtrack, and cool sound effects for everything that you smash and pick up.

So… any complaints?

Well, yes. But they’re not dealbreakers.

  • The sound on the very first opening screen is… well.. scratchy. It sounds like they put the Wii music in there by mistake, or overcompressed it.
  • There’s a bit of slowdown here and there, but it’s only very occasional, and doesn’t affect gameplay.
  • When the camera’s far out from the tornado (because it’s big), it feels like the tornado is moving a smidge too slow for my taste.
  • Sometimes the camera angle is a little off – like when you’re a HUGE tornado.

But all in all, these really don’t matter. You’re not going to sit on the title screen for long anyway, and everything else just melts away as soon as you start playing the variety of levels and go on a destructive frenzy.

Ultimately – and most importantly – this game is FUN.

Go on. Pick up a copy. You owe it to yourself – and your kids.

Tornado Outbreak
Platforms: XBOX 360, Wii, PS3.
Studio: Loose Cannon Studios
Publisher: Konami
Price: $39.99
ESRB: E10+ (Cartoon Violence)
Overall Rating: 85/100

About the author

Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.

The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).

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Scott Bilas wrote on Sunday, October 4, 2009:

Nice review and pretty spot on.

The opening screen music crap sound problem totally wouldn't have happened if I were on site and not in Peru at the time! The problem was somebody did the mix for the audio in Flash. On the other movies you don't notice because only one track is playing but in this one there are several going. Bad idea. Flash is awful at mixing audio, doesn't have a compressor etc. Next time around we make sure the audio guys do all final mixes.

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