Tornado Mania, like Kamikaze Robots and Tower Bloxx Deluxe, follows in the Digital Chocolate tradition: One-button gameplay hook within a larger strategic meta-game. In Tornado Mania, you play as a mad scientist who uses a tornado machine to pilfer buildings from a local metropolis and bring them to his own city in an Antarctic bio-dome. Alternating between causing mayhem and building a utopia involves a lot of back-and-forth, but it will hardly make your head spin.
The mad scientist’s desire for respectability leads you through a lengthy series of municipal raids, with 80 weeks in the game’s Utopia Mode. You’ll start by using your tornado to pick up small barns and single-family homes, boosting the population of your city and enabling you to grow your tornado’s power. Later you’ll be whisking away apartment complexes and giant solar power plants.
Controlling the tornado is meant to be tricky — it moves continually in a small circle, but by touching the screen you’ll cause it to rotate the other way, which lets you advance in a wiggly line. Winding haphazardly, you’re meant to weave a path around the foundations of the buildings you want to steal without reducing its property value in the process. If you’re careless, your utopia will be full of smoldering ruins instead of gleaming towers.
Where you place your buildings once you take them is a separate part of the game. It’s a simple city planner in the style of Sim City, but not nearly as complex or satisfying. With only one benchmark — your citizen’s happiness — it’s not always clear what layouts they’ll like best. Generally, residences need some space apart from other buildings while being relatively close to power plants and commercial zones. With no detailed stats on your city, this part of the game ends up requiring too much guesswork.
While both the one-button smash-and-grab and the more deliberate city planning stages are fun on their own, the juggling of modes highlights the game’s lack of depth. Proof is in the separate Rampage Mode, which contains all smash and no grab. Searing a path of nonstop destruction can actually get a little boring after a while, which is why the Utopia Mode wisely limits destruction time to less than a minute each round.
Tornado Mania was released as a cell-phone game more than two years ago, and the visuals haven’t been noticeably upgraded for the iPhone. Accelerometer control has been added, but since precision is such a key part of the game, it’s not an improvement over the one-touch control scheme. Even without a major upgrade, this is a quality game with two pleasingly simple components and a clever presentation. Tornado Mania is worth a buy if you like your action/strategy games on the light and breezy side.