Tornado Outbreak is another example of a game being hung out to dry by a major publisher. Released at a budget price in the last quarter of 2009, it wouldn't be surprising if you had no clue it existed – despite being published by Konami – because it had little to no launch promotion and wasn't even stocked by major retailers on store shelves. It's a bit of a shame because despite trodding the same ground as better-supported titles from Namco like Katamari Damacy and The Munchables, it's a pretty fun little game.
Much like Namco's Playstation 2 hit, players are concerned with making a small thing bigger by running into other things. In this case you're in control of a "Wind Warrior" named Zephyr who is training to take over command of his troop from the current commander, Nimbus. During the game Zephyr will form a tornado that increases in size as it hoovers up various objects building its level meter until it can make the jump to the next size and hoover up even bigger objects. We're sure any meteorologists reading this will shake their heads and laugh, and the story isn't exactly going to teach you anything about science either.
The main function of the air elementals, known as Wind Warriors, is to travel the cosmos creating breathable atmospheres on planets so they can support new life; during their travels they come across a being called Omegaton who claims to come from an anti-matter universe where he was a great hero. He's near death's door because his "orbs of power" were stolen from him by the dastardly Fire Flyers, who then exiled him to our universe and have hidden the orbs on Earth beneath the crust, where they're guarded over by Fire Totems. The Wind Warriors agree to help defeat the Fire Flyers and retrieve the orbs to restore Omegaton to his former glory, which means destroying lots of human real estate.
Across 11 levels players will be tasked with tearing up everything in their path. Players are able to freely move about the sizable levels, though sometimes you'll have to grow a bit in order to rip up barriers surrounding your starting point. You'll know when you can tear something up if it starts shaking when you approach it; the bigger your twister is the quicker you can dispatch smaller objects, working your way up until you're a true force of nature able to destroy buildings and uproot trees.
Your ultimate goal in each level is to destroy the fire totems, but in order to get to them you first need to gather up at least 50 Fire Flyers in each zone and return them to the L.O.A.D. Star. The Fire Flyers hide out under various objects, which is why you need to lay waste to everything you can as you'll find more of them under larger objects and structures in each level. For some reason UV light is lethal to the Wind Warriors (presumably they ordinarily only visit planets orbiting red stars?), but Omegaton has thoughtfully provided the "lightweight object amalgam device" (uh-huh), which not only stores captured Fire Flyers, but helpfully creates cloud cover for you as well.
Other than sunlit areas your only obstacle is a time limit, which only exists to add challenge and is one of the more annoying aspects of the game. You'll have between three to five minutes, depending on level size, but it can take some time to get big enough to really start collecting those Fire Flyers. By pressing you can hold them in suspension around your twister before absorbing them in order to get a time boost, but you're literally only adding a few seconds to the clock. You'll get a little speed boost when you find them so if you get lucky and find multiple objects hiding Fire Flyers grouped together you can boost along collecting more to get a bigger time increase. By the fifth level and beyond you'll often find yourself madly scrambling to get those last few Fire Flyers and rushing to the L.O.A.D. Star before time runs out because you'll need to spend most of your time getting big enough to destroy the biggest objects in the level so you can uncover more Fire Flyers! You'll gain a couple more abilities from your encounters with earth and water elementals stranded on Earth, like the ability to jump and smash things more quickly with or do a little dash move with , but they barely compensate for the time limits.
The result was multiple replay attempts to complete each level as we got further into the game, which may prove a bit frustrating for the younger audience this game seems to be targeting. This is compounded by your progress only being saved when you complete a level: if you're having trouble with the third zone and need to stop playing, you'll have to replay the level from the beginning next time.
Once you've bested the three zones you need to get really big in order to take down the Fire Totems which have sprung up out of the ground, and that means doing a Vortex Race with Nimbus or another Wind Warrior. A series of gates is arranged around the level which you try to fly through, going faster and faster until you catch up with your companion and generate the vortex required to take down the totems. The is used for this part and works well; in later levels there will be Fire Flyers in some of the gates you need to absorb with lest the gate be destroyed. You're given a medal rank upon completion based upon the number of gates missed, though it's not too difficult for experienced gamers and we managed gold in nearly all of them.
After the vortex race it's time for the showdown with the Totems, which is a bit of a letdown, actually. You'll be in a massive tornado with several of your fellow Wind Warriors and need to move from cloud-to-cloud, navigating past patches of sunlight to reach one or more of the gigantic totems (by the halfway point in the game there will be four in each level). If you hit sunlight or get struck by the fireballs they fling at you you'll lose a warrior; lose all of them and you need to begin again from your original shady spot. When you reach a totem the camera zooms in and you'll see that each totem has three or four faces that you need to destroy by moving Zephyr to them with and then waggling the Remote until the fire contained therein is extinguished, thus destroying them. In later levels the fire-faces have little gates that open and close which will cause you to lose a warrior if you don't move away in time. Definitely not a patch on the fun boss battles of The Munchables, but certainly accessible for younger players. There's a bigger boss battle at the game's conclusion, but we won't spoil the story by going into detail on that except to say that it involves a similar play mechanic to the Totem destruction, though it's slightly more challenging.
Whilst the price of the game may be in the budget range (online prices were around £19.99 at launch) the sound and vision is quality. Everything has a nice chunky look to it and the destruction effects are quite good - especially once you get to Force 5 tornado size and can start shredding up cars and buildings like matchsticks. The level settings include trailer parks, desert military bases, carnival theme parks, English villages, a Renaissance fair and Edo Japan. The Cartoon Network-style artwork in the story segments looks really good and has all the signs of planning for a future franchise. The lack of 480p support is a bit disappointing, but the widescreen 480i presentation was perfectly acceptable.
Audio effects consist of wind storm sounds and things smashing to bits. The shouts of people and animals you hoover up is amusing (assuming you haven't lived through a tornado touchdown in real life) and the voice acting in the story segments is well-delivered and gives the characters a lot of personality. The real star in the audio department is the cinematic score which changes from Western hoedown to refined English classical, etc., to fit the level setting.
All told there's a decent amount of content and you'll take a good 6-10 hours to play through the story – depending on how many times you need to replay the later levels. Each level actually has 100 Fire Flyers in it to collect along with a couple of other objectives that aren't revealed until later in the story and the Vortex Race medal ranks. Whether or not the concept artwork you unlock by achieving various levels of completion on the way to 100% is incentive enough to repeat some of these levels will probably depend on how much you enjoy the game. Whilst we found it lacking overall in comparison to The Munchables, it does have a leg up on Namco's title by offering a full two-player co-op experience with optional splitscreen support which might be enough to extend the appeal for many.
Tornado Outbreak is a surprisingly fun little budget release and a strong multi-platform debut for developer Loose Cannon Studios. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have gotten the level of promotional support from the publisher it deserved, so it's likely to have fallen off the radar of many gamers – if they even knew of its existence. If you're a big fan of The Munchables and looking for something else along similar lines, you'll undoubtedly enjoy Tornado Outbreak. We don't feel it has the same level of charm or replayability of Namco's title, but it's still certainly worth checking out.