Title: Spirit of the North
Developer: Infuse Studio
Publisher: Merge Games
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 07/05/2020
Price: £19.99 – Rapid Reviews were very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Spirit of the North puts you in control of a fox traversing vast landscapes across frozen tundra and grassy hilltops to find the origins of a dark red trail that’s staining the sky. We were very kindly given a copy of both the Steam and Nintendo Switch versions so for this review me and Chloe have compiled a joint article. We’ll be comparing different aspects of the game and bringing our shared experience together – so should you be picking up Spirit of the North? Keep reading to find out!
Toby: The Developers behind Spirit of the North have made it clear the environments are heavily inspired by Icelandic and Nordic culture. What a beautiful part of the world to be inspired by. While graphically on the Switch version the textures and animations are a little rough around the edges – there’s no denying the beauty of every vast expanse you come across and just taking all of that in was something that really stood out. It took me by surprise just how big the universe is. You’ll be running from giant glacial plains, snowy mountain tops and into huge green meadows and weathered ruins.
Chloe: I was also greatly impressed by the vastness of the world. Even though it’s not an open-world game, and there are invisible boundaries, it felt like you were just a small part of this expansive land. The graphics on PC were not anything to rave about, but the world was so beautiful that it didn’t matter that it wasn’t insane graphically. The earthy colour palette and natural environment immersed you in the Icelandic part of the world, yet the cool but bright colour palette of the spirit added that hint of magic, which stood out. This was juxtaposed against the red smoke and danger of the volcano, almost like a battle between good and evil.
Toby: I spent eight hours straight on my first play through, and I still wasn’t anywhere near finished. There are some areas which focus on platforming; these are let down by the fox’s clunky jump mechanic, unfortunately, and that’s one of the few niggles I had. There isn’t enough precision when attempting those leaps of faith or using the dash ability at times. It is a shame the fox and his movements don’t feel more fluid.
Chloe: These clunky mechanics caused me some irritation on PC too. You slide off rocks, bounce off ledges or pose awkwardly in mid-air off a platform Skyrim horse style. Using a keyboard and mouse which is a little trickier than a controller, for me at least, meant that movement just wasn’t sleek. Fortunately, the fox’s animations were so charming that you could forgive it in a way. If you were idle, he’d curl up in a ball and go to sleep, and would shake off the water when he clambered out of a lake. He would also be wide-mouthed and shocked when sprayed into the air on a geyser which was super cute!
Toby: There are a few abilities you pick up along the way for your furry companion. In order to use them, you need to be imbued with the energy from luminous blue flowers, by tapping the A button you can bark and absorb what they have to offer. They’re dotted frequently within each area – there was only a couple of occasions where I couldn’t find any, and this happened mainly in chapter six for reasons being you couldn’t see in front of your nose for the most part. The only time you’ll have to find the flowers and restore your power is when you’ve transferred it into one of the many stone statues you’ll find. These will activate an environmental puzzle or unlock a new path. The dash and spirit walk abilities do require you to have the power of the flowers imbued but don’t drain it, which is a very welcome function as you use both quite a lot.
Chloe: I thought the flower mechanic was creative and interesting; you had this constant familiarity when doing the puzzles, but it wasn’t too repetitive due to the fact you unlocked more abilities. You would then have to use what you learned and combine them to make your way to the next area or puzzle. These abilities are all situated around ‘WASD’ on the keyboard for PC too, so they were easy to remember and use. If you were close to something such as a stone statue which requires a certain action, you’d have a handy image pop up of the key and ability to use. It helped me out greatly on some occasions where I was stuck and passed something by chance I needed to interact with.
Into the Darkness
Toby: Unfortunately for the Switch version it seems chapter six wasn’t necessarily given the same treatment as other versions. You’re faced with navigating a very dark cave with next to no light, except the very sparse plantation and red contamination you find throughout the world. It’s an incredibly frustrating area of the game, and one I found did dampen my experience because I just spent so damn long trying to navigate the puzzles and figure out where to go in the darkness. I’m all up for a challenge at the best of times; but not to the extent where you’re trying to avoid tar pits with multiple layers of ground to traverse in almost pitch black. It was like pulling teeth.
Chloe: I didn’t face this problem at all with the Steam version! The colours, shadows and lighting were distinct, so I could distinguish the tar and the paths even if it was dark. So, if you’re unsure what console to get the game on, you may want to bear this in mind.
Toby: The environmental puzzles work really well, and they balance on just the right side of being taxing enough and not too easy. The soundtrack is absolutely killer; incredibly relaxing and just truly transports you away from your own head and thoughts.
Chloe: The beautiful soundtrack really does play a huge part as the game has no dialogue, so it tells the story along with the visuals. It’s mystical and whimsical as you’re running across mountain tops, triumphant when an uplifting moment in the story occurs, and tense when there’s immediate danger. It renders speech unnecessary and leaves you open to interpret what’s going on through symbols too, which frequently appear throughout the game.
Toby: There’s enough gameplay to keep you going for ten to twelve hours and along the way you’re also hunting for ancient staffs to take back to their deceased counterparts; there’s twenty eight of these which unlock new skins for your fox. A couple even making your fox resemble more of a wolf form! You’re able to go back through the chapters via the chapter select screen which is a welcome addition if you’ve missed any of the staffs along the way. Speaking of wolves; to say I was getting massive Zelda vibes would be an understatement. The sprawling ruins took me back to Ganon’s Castle in Breath of the Wild and the obvious comparison of controlling your dog-like companion I couldn’t help but be reminded of the relationship between Midna and Link in Twilight Princess.
Chloe: The staffs definitely increase the replayability of the game, particularly if you’re like me and prefer to search for collectables after concentrating on the story. I was definitely reminded of Zelda too! It was also uncannily similar to Lost Ember where you play as a silent wolf with a spirit companion, making your way across natural landscapes. I’m sure this is a coincidence, but I couldn’t help but compare them. If you loved one, you’ll definitely love the other!
Toby: A sensational game only let down by a couple of poor environmental design choices and some clunky platforming sections. The soundtrack was one of my favourite parts of the whole thing – I could listen to that on repeat. What you take from this game is entirely up to you, and the abstract nature of the exploration leaves it up to interpretation.
Chloe: A beautiful game enhanced with its use of soundtrack and visuals to tell the story, with awkward movement preventing it from being rated any higher.