If dubstep-backed shooterfests are the video game equivalent of a high sugar, caffeine-laced energy drink, then Eko Software’s environmental puzzle game, Storm, is a quiet, contemplative cup of tea.
It’s relaxing, it’s pleasant on the senses, and occasionally it can burn you. But I’ll get to that.
Your goal in Storm is to guide a seed from its tree to a patch of fertile soil where it can grow into a new tree. You have the elemental powers of wind, rain and lightning at your command, each with several applications.
Direct the seed with a gust of wind. Strike it with lightning to bounce it over a gap. Use rain to wash it down a hill. Pool water in open areas. Use lightning to break or move parts of the environment. These are the basic building blocks of the puzzles, and the game expertly explores the uses and interactions between them.
Storm is a delightfully inventive puzzle game wrapped in a beautiful package.
Storm is divided into seasons, with different elements characterizing each. Spring is where you learn the basics. In summer, grassfires can be started with lightning, spread by wind and extinguished by rain. Autumn is all about wind, allowing you to create tornadoes to carry objects more directly. And in winter, rain can become snow, to build temporary hills, ramps and blockages.
These seasonal variations freshen the game up just when its needed, providing new hazards and puzzle pieces before the previous ones become stale or repetitive.
Levels are engaging, clever and conducive to relaxation, in the sense of a Sudoku puzzle. There’s no pressure, no time limit, no punishment for failure. Your seed may roll off a cliff or into a fire, but there’s always another one. Take as much time and as many seeds as you need to complete the puzzles.
But don’t assume that means there’s no challenge. Figuring out what you need to do, and then pulling that off, can be plenty difficult without time limits or other unnecessary restrictions.
If you want that kind of thing, each level can be played again in Spirit Mode, in which you guide the seed down a different path, to collect Spirits in hard-to-reach areas. This mode is hard enough, but a demanding time limit provides an extra layer of challenge. Unfortunately, the pressure and frustration of a ticking clock undermine the game’s strength as a tranquil exercise. Thankfully, you can (and probably will) just ignore the timer: completing the level within the time frame gives no tangible reward.
But Storm is occasionally annoying even outside of this time attack mode. Being a physics-based game, actions can have varying results. In some cases the solution to a puzzle is obvious, but getting the elements to behave as required involves tedious trial and error, as you wait for the stars to align just right before things work.
Fortunately, these instances aren’t too common, and levels are generally fun to solve, and often pleasantly tough. The aesthetic style builds a relaxing, contemplative mood. It’s lovely to look at and listen to; a detailed natural world with plenty of colour and movement, backed by a suitably mellow soundtrack.
Nice as they are, the visuals sometimes get in the way of the gameplay. In a bewildering design choice, pieces of the landscape look solid, but won’t actually hold weight. It’s not until you hover the cursor over it and it turns transparent, that you realise it’s part of the foreground. In one case, right before the end of the level, my seed fell through what looked like solid ground and ended up back at the beginning. Very frustrating.
Important things like water and the target patches of soil can also be difficult to spot amongst the bright environments. I can’t help but feel that a cartoonier, more stylised look would have been more functional, but that might have come at the cost of the lovely imagery that Storm currently sports.
It definitely won’t be everyone’s idea of a good time, but Storm is a delightfully inventive puzzle game wrapped in a beautiful package. It has its problems, sure, but for those after a quiet break with a more thoughtful experience, it serves well as the calm eye of the storm that is the usual video game racket.