On the Wind Review

On the surface, On the Wind sounds like it’s a remake of the critically acclaimed PS3 game Flower. However, these two titles offer an example of how two sets of rules can send the same premise in wildly different directions.

Both games ask you to use the wind to steer a flock of objects– leaves in On the Wind, flower petals in Flower– across a landscape. But where Flower avoids time limits and encourages you to explore, On the Wind challenges you to keep your leaves together and rack up high scores.

You begin with a tree full of pink spring leaves. They swirl up into the wind when you touch the screen, and the silhouetted landscape begins to scroll slowly to the left. The leaves go wherever you finger goes, and you’ll want to steer them around the landscape and into other trees.

All we are is dust in the wind.

Any leaf that touches the ground stops and becomes a flower. Leaves also float away from your flock over time, so you need to replenish them by skimming the trees– which puts you near the ground. The seasons pass, the landscape accelerates, and there are fewer leaves on the trees to collect. Run out of leaves before the year is over, and the game ends.

Completing a run through the game will take a few tries, but it’s not that difficult. The game’s year is only several minutes long, and the controls are so simple and responsive that it’s easy to build up skill. Right-handed players will find the game a little harder, because you need to steer the wind with the fingers of your left hand if you want an unblocked view of the oncoming landscape. Steering with your off hand feels unnatural, and left-handed players will be amused by the grumblings of the righties.

Once you’ve finished a full year, you’ve seen the whole game. The landscape is procedurally generated, so it’ll always offer a new experience, but the only reason to continue playing is to complete achievements and rack up new high scores.

Make like a tree and leaf.

Chasing up the leaderboard is fun, but most of the achievements are too difficult for casual players. You’d have to grind out a lot of high scores before you ‘collect 1234 leaves in one play’ or ‘have a single leaf 16 times in one play.’ It seems like there should be more medium-difficulty achievements for improving players to accomplish.

The jagged fonts and pixilated transitions are also hard to explain. We love retro games, but the leaves and the landscape are simple and beautiful, while the lettering and icons are blocky and hard to read. The two looks do not go well together.

These are minor problems, made up for by the subtle design elements that make playing the game smooth and fun. The game pauses and restarts smoothly when you lift your finger from the screen. When a leaf turns into a flower, it can help you by repelling other leaves from the ground. And each tree plays a note as you move the wind through it, so you’re creating a song as you play.

Taken as a whole, On the Wind falls on the good side of the ‘stupid games‘ concept that the New York Times Magazine recently devoted its cover story to. It distracts you with a challenge, but soothes you with its graphics and music. Anyone needing a five minute vacation from the real world will find a good one in On the Wind.

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