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Spirits Review

I like to think the spirits are actually dead Lemmings.

In the most recent Humble Bundle, Spirits was the beat the average bonus game. I was initially going to pass on it, but then decided that it looked interesting enough, and gave it a shot. For the most part, I’m glad that I did. Spirits is the kind of game that doesn’t seem too special, but as you play it, it sticks with you. As I’m typing, the main song that plays for most of the levels is stuck in my head. Not a complaint. It’s a game that takes a genre that’s been done to death, but still manages to bring some life to it through its visuals and audio. It’s not the most complex game by any means, but it’s enjoyable enough to try out.

The backgrounds are ethereally beautiful.

Usually I save talk about the graphics and audio for the end of the review, but I think in this case, it’s kind of warranted to bring it up, since I feel like they are the main draws. Everything in this game is beautiful. Think of it as Lemmings meets LIMBO almost, though with more colors. The backgrounds often seem like they’re at the low point of a sunset, with brilliant shades of orange and red swirling together. The spirits themselves take the shape of little white mushroom or umbrella-like creatures with legs and no arms that wouldn’t be out of place in a Miyazaki film. The contrast between them and the generally dark levels is very nice. It makes you feel as though you’re guiding them to safety through some sort of dark and lifeless realm. Having no arms, no mouth, and those small dot eyes makes them very adorable, and I particularly like the animations for when they’re about to jump, and when they’re floating in the air (the mushroom head sort of catches the wind). They’re also quite funny looking when you turn them into clouds, and the effect when they turn into vines, or even die, are all nice (more on this in a bit). Games like this work better, I think subconsciously, when you really want to guide whatever creatures to safety, be they Lemmings or the mini-Marios in Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, and making them friendly-looking helps in this respect. They look, and are, helpless, so you become their savior of sorts, which is all sorts of touching. Probably. Anyway, the natural environments help to add to the non-existent story, as you can sort of tell that these are woodland spirits. Another nice effect is the wind in this game. The way it’s shown on screen is by these particles that glow. It’s almost like Peter Pan faerie dust, which adds to the magical vibe going on. Nice stuff.

The sounds and music are very relaxing. Pizzicato strings, chimes, cymbals, harps, and cellos all combine to make for an ambient and soothing soundtrack. It helps that the music is so relaxing, since you’ll often be restarting the same level again and again to get a perfect solution. The soundtrack makes it all much more tolerable. You may not think much of it at first, but it stays with you, surprisingly enough. It works very well for the atmosphere Spaces of Play is trying to convey.

You’ll have to transform your spirits in order to complete the levels.

In terms of gameplay, as I alluded to, this is basically like Lemmings. The spirits will just move around left or right. If there’s an obstacle, they’ll bump into it and turn around, and if there’s nothing, they’ll leap off the ledge. Your goal is to get them to the swirl at the end of the level. In order to do so, you have several abilities at your disposal. The first ability you get is one that turns your spirits into clouds. These clouds blow wind in one of five directions, left, up, right, diagonally left, or diagonally right. Next you get the ability to turn your spirits into leaf bridges, that can go diagonally left or right. After that, you’re introduced to the digging ability, which lets you dig downward left, diagonally left, down, diagonally right, or right. Finally, the block ability turns your spirit into a giant ball that will go left or right and block any wind that’s blowing. Obviously these aren’t as many abilities as in Lemmings, but I think what’s here works well, and ties in well with the natural theme. The strategy aspect comes into play when you realize that you have to get a certain number of spirits to the goal. This means you can’t be frivolous with your abilities, since a spirit can’t be saved once you use an ability with it. Strewn throughout the levels, occasionally, are plants that your spirits can sprout, either by walking over them, or dropping a seed on them (by clicking on an airborne spirit). While you can complete a level without sprouting these plants, the perfect solutions to the levels require them, so that can add a bit of replayability, depending on whether you care. Some might not, but for others, it could be a welcome challenge.

For the most part, everything works well. You do have to be incredibly precise, almost frustratingly so. Sometimes I would find myself using a leaf bridge about a pixel too late, and having the spirits walk into the “wall” and go back from whence they came. Similar issues with the wind ability through dug holes, and occasionally with the block ability as well. These aren’t huge complaints though, as it’s very easy to retry a level. I haven’t played too far into the Android version on my Galaxy S III (only about ten levels out of a little less than 50), but I can imagine some of the more hectic levels could get really tricky on a smaller screen (it looks beautiful though. Just saying). Thankfully, in both versions, you’re able to pause the action and instruct your spirits on what to do. This is especially helpful on the levels where you have to make a bunch of leaf bridges or the ones where the spirits spawn from several locations. The PC version also adds the needed ability to fast forward the level, which is nice for when you know you have a successful setup and just want to finish the level. Should you be super impatient, you can also wake up all the spirits at any time, rather than waiting for them to come one by one. In terms of level progression, Space of Play does a pretty good job at easing you into your new abilities and then increasing the difficulty. Early on you’ll just have to get a few spirits to the end of the level, while later ones have you saving 30+ spirits and guiding them through narrow spiked areas (spirits die immediately from spikes). Finishing levels, as a generality, is simple. It’s achieving the perfect solutions that adds a bit of challenge. Personally, I think that’s nice, since a more casual gamer won’t be frustrated in not being able to solve a level perfectly, since it’s not required. The option to go back and test yourself is always there though.

I was pleasantly surprised by Spirits. I think that the PC version is clearly the definitive one, but it seems like the phone versions are perfectly playable. from my short time with them. If you’re looking for a Lemmingsesque strategy/puzzle game with a relaxing ambiance aided by clean graphics and soothing sounds, then you can’t really go wrong with Spirits. It’s not terribly long, but it’s definitely enjoyable. At the time of this review, you could pick this up from the Humble Bundle for Android 3 for a little over $6 for the PC (Steam key too), Mac OS X, Linux, and Android versions, as well as several other games in those formats. You definitely can’t go wrong for that price, so I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

Jump into the abyss, friends. I shall see you beyond the veil!

Spirits is a single-player game for Android, iOS, and PC developed by Spaces of Play. The PC version was reviewed. It was a part of the Humble Bundle for Android 3.

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