Released last week on Xbox LIVE, and available on PC and Playstation Network, Storm is an indie physics-based puzzle game. Storm offers three modes of play; Adventure, Free mode and Spirit mode. All three modes require the player to use elements of nature such as wind, rain, lightning and tornadoes, to move a seed towards its objective. The game was developed by IndiePub Studios.
The concept that drives the controls of Storm is fairly original. Push a seed using the elements of nature to make a tree grow or collect spirits. If only it were that simple. As a puzzle game, Storm is successful. Both the levels and the controls were equally puzzling and unfortunately, frustrating. As far as the basic elements the player can use, the wind was fickle at best. It is difficult to control the direction of the wind, especially in tight quarters. Many subterranean sections that require the use of wind necessitate positioning your element cursor at odd angles outside tunnel openings. This is made more difficult as you have a finite amount of charges for each element and must wait for the necessary element to recharge in order to use it.
As for tornadoes, what happened to the awe-inspiring Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt velocity of twisters? Game over man, game over. Transporting stones to their correct positions is akin to trying to herd giant drunken bumblebees. Rocks bounce crazily around inside the funnel of the tornado and can’t be flung so much as lightly tossed, an underhanded toss, in the direction opposite from what you aimed at, or not at all. As for moving seeds, the tornadoes in Storm are ineffective at chucking the little buggers up onto the next ledge or over rock formations often requiring many attempts and a lot of luck.
Storm would benefit from the use of checkpoints on more challenging levels. Many levels require the destruction of tree stumps and rock formations in the correct order and require multiple seeds to be planted. Should the player destroy a precarious precipice prematurely (say that three times fast), the level must be restarted. No checkpoints means the player must again achieve the right combination of luck, skill and patience to re-complete a particularly difficult section.
Another issue with Storm’s puzzle based gameplay is the lack of pop-up messages or a chime to signal that the player is unable to complete a level. Level design, in most cases, does not allow for multiple solutions. If the player screws up, sorry, it may be several minutes before the light bulb blinks on and then a level restart is required. In regards to the solutions to the puzzles, due to flawed level design it is in many cases difficult to tell if the player completed the level in the way it was meant to be played or simply exploited a glitch. A good example of this is Autumn Day 8. A complicated level with two spots to grow a tree on opposite ends of the level, many attempts were made at solving this puzzle. After respawning the seed, an error in wind direction caused it to blow backward down a hill…right into the plot of land that signaled the completion of the level skipping the growth of the other tree entirely.
The physics-based gameplay often works against the player causing much frustration. Ecstatic that after multiple attempts you managed to chuck, float or blow that seed up onto an angled ledge, you may soon find yourself shaking your fist at a lightning-torn sky as the seed rolls back down into a pit of purple death flowers or down a crevasse out of sight. Boulders, necessary for plugging holes, often roll the opposite direction of where they are supposed to prompting additional maneuvering and level restarts.
With nothing by way of tutorials, Storm expects the player to determine how to use a newly introduced element or the correct sequence for destroying bits of the environment. Though there is a hint system, hints generally state the obvious or are used to introduce a new element with little to no explanation and must be unlocked as the player progresses through levels.
The design of the levels is sometimes confusing as the foreground in some areas is not distinguishable from the background. Where is that seed supposed to go? What looks like a sheer cliff of rock may in actuality be a seed friendly tunnel but the player won’t know unless the element cursor is directly over the spot to reveal the tunnel opening.
It is understandable for a puzzle game to forgo cutscenes and an overarching storyline, however, Storm could make good use of a cute story about the little seed that could. Though there are changes in seasons, levels become monotonous over time with only a title screen noting the season and day at the start of each level. Without a fun story or villain, the difficulty of the levels makes a strong campaign for anti-environmentalism.
With little by way of content, fickle controls and difficult gameplay, Storm does little to justify even it’s low $9.99 price tag. The original concept of the game would be fun and dynamic if more time had been spent ironing out the bugs. Storm could also use some design simplicity. The many rocks and cliffs and grasses did more to hinder awkwardly shaped seeds than to provide an ambient background. The highlight of the game? A minute or two after rage-quitting for the first time, (left the game on but walked away so as not to Hulk Smash the controller) an announcement popped up that a new trophy had been earned, Storm’s Contemplation trophy. Contemplation is an apt title for the trophy though playing this game will likely result in the player spending more time contemplating how to get their money back than how to finish a level.