Update: DragonBox Shop and Yuan Works read our open letter and have dropped the price of Wind & Water to an even US$15. The best part it covers shipping as well.
Yuan Work’s little known Wind & Water: Puzzle Battles (W&W:PB) is what I consider the most underappreciated game on the Dreamcast. Originally released in November 2008, the game’s sales can be likened to E.T. for the Atari 2600. The silver lining for Wind & Water, however, is that the publisher opted to give away unsold copies of the game for free at trade shows instead of burying them in the desert.
So what is this Wind & Water: Puzzle Battles?
Wind & Water: Puzzle Battles is an adorable, chibi-anime-style, pixel-art, action-puzzle, role-playing game developed for the handheld device GP2X by two brothers in Costa Rica.
Go ahead and take a minute to process that last sentence.
You may be wondering, “What the flip is a GP2X?” It’s a Linux-based handheld game console and portable media player released only in South Korea in 2005, sold via import stores across the world. What made the console special was that its primary source of games was 16-bit emulation and homebrew.
The champion of emulation and homebrew home consoles back then was our beloved Dreamcast. Hence, the Dreamcast scene had a strong affinity towards the little Korean handheld. In 2003, Max Scharl (founder of DCS and RedSpotGames) was demoing a prototype for a GP32 (predecessor of GP2X)/DC link cable at various trade shows in an effort to find a distributor.
Fast forward to 2007 and Scharl had launched his own independent game publishing company Redspotgames where he persuaded Yuan Works to remake the game for Dreamcast.
Unlike our American indie Goat Store publishers (GSP) who were taking a casual homebrew “not for getting rich” approach towards independent development, Scharl took an aggressive professional approach and went as far as ushering the trend of packaging indie games as Japanese commercial games, deceptively blurring the lines between indie and licensed.
This approach may have been lucrative for NGDT’s shm’ups, which fit seamlessly into the steady stream of licensed “shmups” that were still being released for the console, but it inadvertently functioned as the first nail in the coffin for the Costa Rican puzzler.
… and why was it an abysmal failure?
Unfortunately, Scharl failed to capitalize on this unique offer and focused his efforts on demoing the game at events such as Game Convention. The game was released to little fan fare on November 1st, 2008. For roughly US $50 (paired with international shipping which costs a little over $10), you end up paying an obscene amount for a retro game. Alternatively, there was Play-Asia selling the game for $40.
Nonetheless, the game was anything but economical, especially compared to all the other GSP puzzle games.
To be fair, the game was exponentially better in quality than most of the GSP puzzlers and the production values were better than most commercial games. For example, the game came with a beefy, 40-page, full color manual with all text translated in English and Japanese!
Most commercial games don’t even offer so much. Scharl went about marketing W&W with a lot of passion but completely in the wrong direction. Various strategies were employed to move W&W, such as bundling the game with other shmups, but it wasn’t enough. A year later, Redspotgames dropped the price. However, they still weren’t able to move their stock and eventually gave the remaining copies of the game for free at trade shows.
The final nail in W&W’s limited print run was just like the Dreamcast: the game was ahead of its time. W&W came out a couple of years before the 8/16-bit retro revival via PSN/XBLA.
The Dreamcast market was simply not ready to appreciate the beauty of old school pixel art because we all wanted shiny polygonal games; The whole movement of looking at pixels as art had not kicked off yet. I was a vocal critic of Wind & Water and lambasted the game without ever playing it.
I was uneducated about the chibi, anime-art style and made several posts discouraging people from buying the game. I overlooked the beautiful little things like a playable character modeled after the VMU or the cutesy story that was meant to educate gamers about the hurdles in game development. I hope to make amends for that mistake with this feature.
Dreamcast Vlogger Adam Koralik has described Wind & Water as the most underrated Dreamcast game. Benzaie from That Guy with the glasses (Nostalgia Critic’s Company) has called it the best indie Dreamcast game and has “placed it on par with Chu Chu Rocket.” GagaMan from Dreamcast Junkyard was the voice of reason, who finally forced me to take off my 3D-tinted glasses and enjoy the 240p 2D pixel art.
The commercial failure of W&W had severely detrimental effects on the future of Yuan Works. The indie Dreamcast scene was flourishing and Hucast had just released Dux, which sold out in a few months. NG:Dev.Team had released Last Hope: Pink Bullets, which also sold pretty fast. Even Fast-Striker released in 2010 sold out. Yet, Wind & Water could not sell without being bundled with those those games.
In my discussions with Yuan-Hao, he told me that he questioned himself as a developer because of the game’s failure. Conducting a postmortem on W&W, Yuan-Hao realized the failure of the game was not in development but in marketing. Hence, he started studying marketing and with that his own marketing business, which grew into a lucrative business, effectively pulling him away from game development.
Wind & Water had a lasting impact on the future of indie games. Scharl clearly learned a valuable lesson from the game. When he published Senile Team’s Rush Rush Rally Racing in 2009, it was released in two editions. The deluxe came with color manuals and an OST CD, while a regular edition came with black and white manuals. Additionally, the game emphasized fun, retro gameplay over cutting-edge graphics.
In 2011, Yuan Works released the game as freeware on Windows so that everyone could enjoy it. I briefly played the PC version, and realized I must own this game, so I spent many years hunting the game down. Last year, I was finally able to find myself a brand-new, sealed copy to add to my Dreamcast collection.
Fortunately for all of you, you do not need to buy this game from an overpriced auctions at eBay, because the loving folks at DragonBox Shop have persuaded Yuan Works to let them handle republishing of the game.
This isn’t their first foray in Dreamcast publishing as they released Retro Guru’s Fruit’y: Playing with Edibles last year, but they have worked hard at persuading Yuan Works and have released the game at a sensible price of $10 (depending on July 4th Euro exchange rate). DragonBox and Yuan Works said they hope that the low price will help compensate for international shipping prices.
Since July 4th, 2016 is America’s Independence Day, I would formally request independent developer Yuan Works to collaborate with independent publisher Goat Store and do us Americans all a solid and release the game domestically!
(Editor’s note: Featured image courtesy of Aaron Foster, aka Gagaman, from Dreamcast Junkyard
Article has been updated once since last posted. We erroneously wrote that this was Dragon Box’s first game in the original publication)