Xbox LIVE Arcade Reviews

Storm Review: “If patience is worth anything…”

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When you hear “physics-based-puzzle-game” do you cringe, or get a little bit giddy? What reaction takes place is likely dependent not on objective feelings of the genre itself, but of your experience with particular titles. Ever since Angry Birds and Peggle took off, games of this nature have been struggling to share the limelight – some less successfully than others. And what determines whether or not the titles are any good is how accurate and reliable the actual physics of these games are, coupled with how forgiving the titles are of any mistakes. Storm does a good (but not perfect) job in both those areas.

Storm brings its own unique twist to the genre by giving the player the power to control the elements, in an attempt to drive seeds from one tree toward fertile ground. With things like wind, water and lightning at your command, as you progress through the four seasons you’ll encounter increasing challenges and occasional mind-benders. But where Storm shines are those “ah-ha!” moments when the mechanics of the gameplay so ingeniously mirror reality. From the simplicity of the overall concept (nature really does use wind to move seeds to fertile ground) to manipulation of more exotic forces (like using lightning to ignite grass fires) the game has an overall consistency in presentation that really makes the title worthwhile.

The audio and art work are relaxing in general, though the ambient tension of the music starts to ramp up when you reach the Fall season (which is the point where I had to turn the volume down). Throughout those experiences you may find infrequent impetus to complain; while Storm does a great job of offering reliable mechanics, there are sporadic moments where you think what you’re doing ought to work, yet inexplicably it doesn’t. For example, after igniting grass you can use the wind to push embers towards other dry patches, causing fire to spread. But it may take multiple attempts to get the timing of moving the embers just right. There’s a precision often required by the game that is there ninety-nine percent of the time, but those rare absences one percent of the time are definitely noticeable.

The game does an excellent job of continuing to offer new ways of manipulating different types of seeds, forcing you to use multiple elements in conjunction with each other. While none of the puzzles reach Enigma status, there are some that will have you scratching your head and wondering whether or not you should just turn to the scarce Wild seeds to skip that particular level. (Usually things can be worked out, but sometimes it’s hard to shake that nagging feeling that you’re doing everything right, but it’s just the game that isn’t quite cooperating.)

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As to how punishing mistakes are, it really depends upon the level. Some stages require you to move a seed to no more than two patches of dirt, where each planting you achieve gives you a sort of “check point” to revert back to, should your seed get destroyed. The trouble is that this system only allows you to reset the position of your seed, and not the position of environmental obstacles you can manipulate – once you shatter a log or cause some rocks to collapse with quick lightning strikes, you’re pretty much committed, and if you made an error in the order-of-operations you’ll just have to start the stage over. Sometimes this trial-and-error process helps you uncover the final solution to the stage. Sometimes you have to create a dam to float your seed up to a ledge, where a mistimed lightning strike lands you back on the wrong side of your now-blocked entrance, forcing you to begin the stage all over again. Those instances where you only have one shot to get things right are where Storm is at its most frustrating.

Thankfully those forced restarts are the exception, and not the norm, just as those moments where the physics feel imprecise don’t dominate the experience either. What you come away with then is a feeling that the subtle brilliance of this game is something that should have been thought up long ago. Despite some imperfections, Storm is a great game that offers a unique challenge well worth looking into for those who get giddy for physics, and one whose elements may just help reduce that cringing feeling you get when “physics” games don’t behave naturally.

SCORE: 8.5 out of 10

A code for Storm was provided to Pixel Related for review.

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