The Zelda liturgy

The best Wii game you haven't played


LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias is the best '09 Wii game you haven't played. I make this assertion knowing you sprinted to the store and purchased Little King's Story after I praised it effusively in August. And I'm dead certain you dropped everything to play New Super Mario Bros. Wii after I slobbered all over it two weeks ago.

So, gentle BG reader, I salute your refined taste and superior gaming acumen, but there's a page missing from your "Wii Games I Loved in 2009" scrapbook if you haven't yet played the lovely new game from indie UK studio Frontier Developments. LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias will charm your senses, tease your brain, and restore your faith in the WiiWare Channel...well, two out of three anyway.

Winter of the Melodias is the sequel to last year's terrific LostWinds, and it improves on the original by creating a bigger, more varied and visually polished world. Enhanced textures and particle effects mix with a more imaginative approach to color, proving once again the value of thoughtful iteration. Nearly everything about this game looks like it was given a careful makeover, including the level design, which feels more organic and cohesive than its predecessor.

And, I should mention, it's tougher than the first game, but also more fair. A few areas in last year's game felt a bit forced, as if the designers were intent on demonstrating the value of every skill acquired by the player, regardless of the internal logic of the game. In this year's edition, the challenges emanate naturally from the environments and the player's gesture-based toolset. Controlling the seasons (summer or winter) plays a big role in this too. The addition of a map solves the problem of getting lost...although I have to admit that making my own map for last year's game flashed me back to the good old days of text adventures and graph paper. Those were good old days, right? :-)

LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias is a game of yin and yang. Winter and summer. Fire and ice. Enril is a girl and Toku is a boy. Enril is a wind spirit, and Toku is a human. Elemental powers can help or harm, above the earth's surface or beneath it, and peace can only be a achieved by striking a harmonious balance between the planet and its inhabitants.

The game fully expresses this balance by manifesting it in the controls. Enril is the Wiimote and Toku is the nunchuck. Enril harnesses the wind, while Toku navigates the physical world and its obstacles. Each relies on the other - right hand, left hand - and the player unifies and embodies them both as one. I can't think of another game that so perfectly meshes mechanics with thematic meaning.

Playing a well-designed game like this always make me feel like I'm engaged in a dynamic conversation with its creators. It's as if I'm enjoying the game on two simultaneous levels: the in-game process of exploration and discovery (LostWinds is an adventure-puzzle-platformer), and the extra-game process of observing through my own gameplay a design team working its magic via a progression of clever and occasionally inspired ideas.

Throughout my playthrough, I found myself muttering "Ah! Fantastic!" and "Ooh, I see what you did" (and, at times, "Gaaah! How do I get up there?!") as if the game's designers were sitting right next to me.

Winter of the Melodias isn't a long game (someday I hope we'll stop measuring games in hours), but it is chock-full of playfulness, warmth, and artistry. A lot of love went into this game. You can just tell.