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Wee games bring Wii joy

Boom Blox and LostWinds are a study in contrasts. One is published by mega-developer EA with artistic guidance from the most famous movie director in the world (Steven Spielberg); the other is a side-project created by an independent studio (Frontier Developments) born out of a suggestion posted on an internal discussion forum. One is a puzzle game with story elements; the other is a storytelling platformer with puzzle elements. One is distributed on a disc in a plastic case; the other is beamed into your home via Nintendo's brand new Wii Ware service. One is lots of fun, while the other is...also lots of fun.

Boomblox_box_2 Boom Blox
Boom Blox taps into that nasty destructive feeling you get when you walk into a room and see your sister building a tower of blocks. No matter how impressive this feat of construction may be, you've simply *got* to knock it down. Boom Blox is about knocking things down. That's pretty much the whole game. Fortunately, it presents so many clever ways to do this - all with well-implemented and responsive Wiimote gestures - that you never tire of the process. Locking onto your target point and winding up for a monster fling that will bring down those blox in a single throw is the most satisfying use of motion control I've yet seen in a Wii game.

Of course, you can also grab, push, pull, shoot, and blow up blox as well. All of these (and more) are fun, but the real challenge - and what keeps you playing puzzle after puzzle - is the detective work you must do before making that throw or taking that shot. It's often possible to bring down a complex set of columns all at once, if you can determine exactly where to aim that bowling ball. Hit it just right, and a chain reaction begins that eliminates every block on the screen. Chances are, a great deal of your time will be spent replaying the same level over and over until you achieve that perfect one-turn success.

I've yet to try the multiplayer modes, and I've only toyed with the editor that allows you to build your own levels. For a game with small but manageable ambitions (for which I'm grateful), Boom Blox provides a lot of gameplay. It's a shame that so few people, as far as I can tell, are aware that this game even exists. Boom Blox is the perfect game for so-called casual gamers ready to try something else with their wiimotes.

Lostwinds876_2 LostWinds
If you're looking for a purely joyful gaming experience, LostWinds is your game. If you wonder whatever happened to graceful 2-D platformers, LostWinds is your game. If you'd like to send a message to independent developers that artfulness and beauty are worthy game design goals, LostWinds is your game, and you can buy it for 10 bucks.

To describe a unique game, we often refer to touchstones in other games. It's possible to see pieces of Wind Waker's visuals, and Kirby Canvas Curse's control scheme, and Okami's gestural use of the natural environment, and even Super Mario Bros floaty jumps. These can all be found in LostWinds, but the game is so much more than a cobbled together set of play mechanics.

LostWinds conveys an organic feeling to the player. Its levels fully integrate their environmental elements as gameplay, puzzles, obstacles, motion, and story. Everything connects. The wind - the central natural element in the game, controlled by the player - affects everything it touches. It is a jetstream, a conduit, a conveyor of water and fire, and a weapon. It is all you have and all you need.

The peaceful music and the sounds of the wind rustling through trees create a perfect soundscape to accompany your journey through the game's caverns, fields, and villages. Few games seem to take into account the possibility of a player taking his or her time. Lingering too long in one area usually leads to looping musical distraction, but LostWinds' spare wind-instrument melodies weave in and out seamlessly and almost unnoticed. Taking your time in this game is a pleasure, not least because it's such a beautiful place to be.

LostWinds tells a story about spirit stones and recovering lost artifacts and protecting the land from an evil force. We've heard it all before, of course, and I suppose the game might benefit from a more original story. But it hardly matters, really. This game has such a big heart and warm soul - and making the journey is such blissful joy - you will likely be sad to see it end after 3 hours or so. LostWinds' final gift may lift your spirits, however. It ends with a "to be continued" screen, and Frontier has already confirmed a sequel is in the works.

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