Review: Storm

Storm

As kids, most of us used to dream about what it would be like to be able to control the weather–and usually those dreams involved wielding lightning, tornadoes and monsoons like some kind of mad supervillain, wreaking as much devastation as possible.

In Storm, a modest physics-based puzzle game new to Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, our childhood dreams have come true, but we’re using them for a far more beautiful and beneficial purpose—to move a tree seed from a branch to a patch of fertile soil.

Or at least we’re trying to. Even though Storm gives you the power to command gusts of wind, bolts of lightning and fierce tornadoes, you’ve rarely felt so helpless. Storm’s glowing and gorgeous pastoral settings look like a natural palette for your weather-based experimentation, but the truth reveals itself quickly, like a bolt of lightning upside the head: The game has a very specific method in mind for you to unravel the 49 puzzles you’re faced with here, and even once you find the combo of elemental powers to do the trick, a terrible physics system and clumsy implementation means you’ll struggle mightily to execute them.

Appropriately, Storm arranges its puzzles and power distribution to mirror the change of seasons. For instance, you start the game able to push the A button to release a gust of wind or unleash a torrential downpour in spring, but won’t gain access to snow-based powers until late in the game when winter rolls around. This is a clever touch, and the opening puzzles of each season are Storm’s high points, as you gleefully try out the new tools you’ve been given.

It doesn’t take long for your sense of power to dwindle to frustration, however. Lightning bolts that can start wildfires and obliterate obstacles are about the only thing that’s precise here—everything else feels like you’re playing an early-issue Kinect game. It seems simple enough to swipe the cursor in a certain direction to unleash a burst of wind that will move your seed in the clearly desired direction, but most of the time, it doesn’t work out that way. Seeds will routinely end up rolling backwards into ravines, forcing you to retrace the steps that got you there in the first place. It’s even worse when you have to string your elemental powers together—for example, floating your seed upwards with a pool of rain and then using the wind to blow it forward. There’s no penalty for multiple retries—well, other than the complete loss of your patience and sanity. Fun? Not so much. There’s a difference between challenging and unfair, and Storm’s physics system treats it the way a tornado treats a Kansas farmhouse.

Storm’s going for the same kind of interface-free vibe as Flower, but the game it more closely recalls is From Dust, another offering in which you could only impact the action in a peripheral way, with the same kind of swirling pixie cursor. From Dust had its frustrations, too, but at least you were eventually able to manipulate your li’l tribesmen to get from point A to point B. Here, it feels like the game is actively working against you, and undermining everything it’s trying to accomplish.

Storm gets major points for creating a set of gorgeous environments, and for coming up with some truly cool and devious puzzles. It’s too bad that solving them ends up feeling like you’re trying to hammer a nail with a spaghetti noodle. If this is what it feels like to try on Mother Nature’s robes, I think I’ll focus on realizing some other childhood dreams instead.

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Gorgeous natural/pastoral environments
+ Interesting mix of environmental powers mirrors the change of seasons

Cons:
– Each puzzle only has a single solution
– Controls are frustratingly imprecise

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on XBLA for Xbox 360, also available on PC, Mac and PSN
Publisher: indiePub Entertainment
Developer: Eko Software
Release Date: 6/14/2013
Genre: Physics-based puzzler
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.