Tornado DS Review

Eat, sex, defecate, sleep, repeat. The cycle of life in fairly simple stages. Clearly these activities have been translated many a time before into interactive gaming. Well, maybe not so much the defecation but the rest, totally. We do however seem to have an obsession with the “eating” part in games in particular, almost as much as scantily clad woman in MMORPGs. From the early days of Pac-Man and Snake to the more recent Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy, there is just something insatiably delightful about gobbling up pixels. Possibly our enjoyment of such titles is drawn from our primitive instincts or maybe it’s down to great game design. After having experienced Tornado, I beg the latter.

This game centres on a group of intergalactic, anthropomorphic cat dustmen that create tornados to clean up the rubbish. In this instance they happen to be sweeping up earth when Prince (not the Symbol) appears with a black hole, causing earth to get sucked in, leaving our unfortunate furry friends to put everything back. Talk about change in job roles! I’d be demanding a pay rise! This is the flimsy excuse for another “Hoover up as many items as you can” arcade gameplay experience that Tornado offers.

First off is the sound of what might as well be cat nails dragging across a blackboard. The characters, Nickelodeon styled furry blighters don’t stay silent while talking, or even just make an initial “meow” to show the conversation has switched hands. Instead they beep, meow, squeal and growl through the whole dialogue. The game is aimed at children, for that I have and do make allowances, but this is just horrible. It was like waiting in a nightclub queue, sober, with a group of girls shrieking and screaming at that pitch which erodes your brain while you try your best to avoid eye contact with attached boyfriends. This is before I’ve even started playing the game, it had me in a state of heightened agitation, and it only got worse.

You are then run through some brief tutorials explaining the control system while still bombarded by the CONSTANT NOISE! The music doesn’t help matters either with its annoying jiggles and supposedly funky rhythms. I want to hear some proper funk in one of these games some day.
Anyway, the game is presented to you, finally, with a map of the area you are clearing up on the top screen and an isometrically angled, 3D view of the area with your selected furry ball in the centre. To start cleaning the area you need to get your tornado power going, which is accomplished by drawing circles repeatedly around your character until Mr/Miss Meow turns into an elemental tower of destruction. However, at this stage it’s a rather short tower that can only suck up trees, lamp posts, fences, bikini ladies and penguins. The sound effects used for grabbing people are pretty funny and it does have a charming style to it, I’ll give it that. You must now navigate your whirligig of fur around the map sucking things up in order to get to the next level eventually reaching the level 5 map destroying cyclone. To achieve this you touch in the direction you wish to move, which is the most ridiculous thing, as you are spinning circles on the touch screen at a rate of about 120rpm. This is because as your tornado tears objects up, it uses some energy which can only be regained by; you guessed it, drawing circles. This means most of the time, you’ll be using the D-pad to move while the other hand is frantically scribbling over the touch screen. There are also accompanying abilities to give the gameplay some variety. Blowing into the microphone will give you micro-power bursts in speed, but you’ll have to be at level two to use this feature. At the highest level, the tornado is not only larger but will split in two, enabling it to deal double damage. However, it’s not always easy to get to this last level.

It’s an interesting concept granted but the implementation into a game is poor. The drawing interferes with the D-pad controls and it makes a complete mess of the touch screen. My DS screen is now covered in scratches, luckily I have a screen protector, otherwise I’d be raging. I wonder if this is some sort of ploy to force people onto the DSi, either way not impressed. The D-pad movement is also woolly and largely imprecise, I couldn’t figure out if this was due to the frequent slow down as buildings popped up (really, this game has pop up) or the touch screen interfering but nevertheless, it’s infuriating to be guiding the spinning feline across a bridge only to drop off for apparently no reason. I remember this type of frustration due to poor design from my young days playing Robocop 2 on the C64. Constantly falling off platforms due to the stupid momentum that metal Murphy possessed made me want to tear my skull from my body and smash into the screen.

The hair pulling is now getting to dangerous levels as is the time limit which is rapidly diminishing. All three game modes (Story, Arcade and Multiplayer) are timed events, which is probably the crux of Tornado’s failing as a game. During the story mode of the game, you must collect items, defeat foes using power ups or “Tornado bumping” and find missing allies. This is done across a background of ten levels representing different countries including the UK (with only landmarks from London), France (Paris), Japan (Tokyo), America (actually modelled with LA in the West and NYC in the East) and most surprisingly, Iraq. Yes, I was a little taken aback by the war torn level full of bombs, tanks, mosques, woman in Niqabs and camels. It feels very out of place next to the rest of the games bright colourful presentation. The comments our feline friends make are not particularly in tune either, barely noticing other than to give you a pro tip: “keep away from the bombs!” Whether they were just trying to make an “accurate” model of the world or to encourage children to think about war I will probably never know. Nevertheless, it’s hardly the worst thing Tornado does to the player. Making you play a game of pot-luck against the clock however, is.

During the “find your buddies” levels you must clear away as much of scenery to find them before the timer runs out. This is not too challenging in the first few stages despite having a steep learning curve due to the controls. However, upon getting to the 6th stage set in America the game broke. You must find one of the blasted cats during the 5min time limit and also defeat King Kong with the lighting power-up. First of all, even the fastest character takes about 30 seconds to traverse the map, which you can multiply by 2 if you’re picking up everything on the way. To use this power-up, the tornado must be level 4 which takes considerable time. So by the time you’ve reached the east coast with said tornado, you’ll likely only have about a minute left to kill the beast and then finish finding the useless space kitty. And as I found out later, the location of the cat is random each time, and he doesn’t spawn until you’ve cleared 50% of the map, which is not made known to the player. Couple this with no instant replay, and things are looking disastrous indeed.

I have not been made so angry by a game in a long, long time. Granted, the arcade mode dispenses with the ill devised objectives leaving the player in a sandbox-like, “just suck it all up” mode that unlocks when you’ve beaten each level, as well as a two-player versus mode that finds you racing to suck things up or change the colour of crystals. However these additions to the core game do not forgive the appalling design decisions. To top it all off the camera is placed too close to the action, even as the tornado grows, never quite giving you enough view distance to navigate. I suspect this is largely down to the engines inability to render many objects at a time, however I have seen similar effects in Prey the Stars, so it could be more down to the capabilities of the DS itself. That said, DS titles such as Metroid Prime, Ninja Gaiden and Mario 64 make incredible use of the DS so I’m not giving Tornado any brownie points here.

Brownies, mmmmmm.

So, eating? Add it to a game results in the ultimate arcade game experience? Hardly. Tornado has proved that borrowed ingredients from excellent games, mixed at random, does not work. The raw ideas are sound, I even cracked a little smile when I heard the concept and laughed at the bikini ladies whizzing off into my monstrous tower, but that was all. This game caused me a great deal of distress both from its badly implemented control system and incredibly frustrating core gameplay. Constant circling, no instant retry and unforgiving time limit made for a unrewarding game experience. Maybe if the cats had to vomit up the clearly monstrous space hairballs to keep things interesting, it might have succeeded.

Na, who am I kidding. Tornado has been developed with good intentions and classic elements but ultimately forgot to include the most important part of life.