Twister, the 1996 flick starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton, excelled at conveying the devastation accompanying a tornado. Yet, its tale of destruction was spun with a good dash of humor. I’ll never forget two specific scenes: the actors seeking refuge in a tool shed full of deadly farm equipment and cows being hurled through the air.
In Tornado Jockey, you are the tornado, one of nature’s most destructive forces. And, like a blender on puree, you goal is to fill the sky with farm machinery and fling cattle into the stratosphere as you twirl like a Tasmanian devil across farmlands and cityscapes.
A tornado simulator in some respects, Tornado Jockey is primarily an action game with some strategy elements tossed in. You begin as a small twister with a Fujita Scale rating of F0, as tame as it gets (F5 is the most destructive). As you advance through the game’s levels, your tornado increases in both size and power, allowing you to wreak greater and greater havoc.
On each level, you have primary and secondary targets to clear. Primary targets can be anything from a farm to a hot air balloon to a nuclear power plant. Take them out before the timer reaches zero, and you advance to the next location. Fail, and you replay the level. Secondary targets are not essential to advance, but they do assist you in the process. A crop circle, for instance, places a flying saucer into play; it circles your tornado for a short time and eliminates nearby enemies.
And, yes, tornados do have adversaries. While you’re trying to increase your destructive force and remove essential targets, your enemies are seeking to thwart your progress and dissipate your tornado’s power. Foes include crop dusters, police choppers, storm chasers, ray cannons and trucks, foam tanks, F-killers and bombers. The latter are especially troublesome, dropping mines via parachutes that create a vacuum when they land, sucking away your twister’s strength.
Your only recourse against enemies is avoidance, tossing debris at them or hitting them with the correct power-ups. These become more critical as the game progresses. Available assists waterspouts, firestorms, hail and your best friend: lightning. Acquiring power-ups not only helps you combat your tornado’s opponents, but also amplifies the amount of damage it causes and the dollar damage earned as points. That, of course, is what it’s all about – escalating fiscal destruction!
Tornado Jockey gives you the choice of playing in Story Mode or Tornado Alley. Story takes you through six game levels as you cultivate your tornado over a period of three years, a total of 18 levels in all. Years two and three increase the difficulty proportionately, adding a greater number of primary targets to each location and increasing the enemy artificial intelligence (A.I.). Tornado Alley is simply about destruction. You select any level you’ve already unlocked in Story Mode, pick an initial Fujita Scale rating and inflict mayhem to your heart’s content. Destruction reigns supreme until the timer zeros out.
On a positive note, Tornado Jockey spins up a unique game concept, slick interface, attractive 3-D graphics and storm-enhancing audio. Presentation makes for a very compelling game experience, as does overt destruction. Also, high scores are maintained for Story and Tornado Alley modes, and can be posted to online leaderboards.
Negatively, there are some frustrating twists. Controlling the path of your tornado can be difficult, especially in the Big City where an abundance of tall buildings block the way. It’s easy for your cyclone to get bogged down destroying buildings when you’re fighting the clock to reach a target beyond them. Plus, your view can be eclipsed by the structures themselves.
Moreover, rewards are lacking. Destruction dollars, raised for completing a level, are insufficient compensation alone for the effort. Game-play becomes boring after a year or two. Additional levels to download or an editor to create your own would help, as would extra features like the ability to destroy dams, create tidal waves, split larger tornados for widespread destruction and add some much needed time to the clock. Levels based on famous landmarks would be cool, too.
In the end when all the debris has settled, Tornado Jockey proves entertaining, yet it lacks staying power. It’s worth a try, but the excitement may not endure long enough to sweep you off your feet.