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Spirit of the North Review – Beautiful Puzzling

Juan over at SwitchWatchTV has reviewed Spirit of the North, a beautiful-looking puzzle adventure game by Infuse Studio and Merge Games. You can check out the video review below, or continue downward to read his script here on SwitchWatch.co.uk.

Welcome to another Nintendo Switch Review here at SwitchWatch, I am Juan Romero and here we have Spirit of the North which was released a year back on PS4 and has now been ported to the Switch and is being published by Merge games and yes, we get that sweet Signature Edition. Before I get into it some of you may or may not care but this was made by 2 gentlemen and that’s something when reviewing a game like this, I like to take into consideration because I like where merit deserves to support talent.

Let’s break this down and see if it’s worth your hard earned cash.

STORY

If you have played games such as Journey, Abzu or Inside then you will know that games can tell a story without using any words at all and leaves a lot to your own imagination through the games music and visuals. We will get into those parts in a minute but this is more about the journey and how it makes you feel. I don’t want to give anything away but I will say that this game will make you think about things that we do to our world such as the pollution we create and what that can do to wonderful landscapes. From the moment the game loaded up I was captivated by the wonderful scenery and controlling our little protagonist, a which stands out majestically against the snowy surroundings and the beautiful green lands of Iceland inspired by Nordic Folklore. This is full of mystery and one which will have it’s claws in you till the end. As you start out your fox becomes involved with the guardian of the Northern lights, a female Spirit Fox.

All you have to go on is a red mist in the sky and your companion which you quickly begin to follow as you investigate the surroundings further and unravel the mysteries.

GAMEPLAY

As you control your Fox there are a few things I want to get off my chest before talking about the positives within the gameplay. Controls are a little clumsy at times and it’s not as tight as it could have been in a game which has platforming sections. Luckily these platforming sections are not too tricky but there are timed sections which are a little frustrating due to you falling off ledges due to the controls. While the game makes it look as if you can explore to your hearts content it is rather linear and you will always end up going where the game intends you to go to get to the next chapter. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing but I would have loved it if the game was more of an open world where you could go anywhere, thirdly is the lack of life within the game. The environments are absolutely stunning but where is the other wildlife, I think that would have added to the experience but hey let’s move onto the positives.

Spirit of the North is an experience where you get to solve environmental puzzles in a mostly beautiful place, most of the puzzles will involve releasing doors which are covered in what looks like pollution of the most disgusting kind, the moment you take your fox through an oil sludge it will make you think about the way we are destroying our world and it’s plants and wildlife. None of the puzzles here are challenging but they are enjoyable and involve the source of your power the spirit fox. As you solve a et of puzzles the game follows a similar pattern in which you will take in some scenery while looking for shamens and sliding down waterfalls which is pretty cool. You can’t die here or anything like that so the game is certainly one you can play with younger ones as no violence is involved at all. In deed I went through the whole game with my 5 year old and it was actually a very valuable lesson and a lovely story to discuss with her.

As you get further into the game you will unlock differing powers such as being able to control the spirit fox so that it can get to parts of a level you can’t by for example walking on water. Certain large stones within the levels require you to release a blue energy which can only be absorbed by blue glowing flowers dotted around the world and usually once you release this energy into a stone it will unlock a door and you will then have to find more of these flowers to make sure you can absorb more energy to allow you to use certain powers at your disposal like a dash or a bolt of energy to destroy these nasty black plants which are consuming some of the landscape which block your path.

For those of you that like to collect then finding shamen staffs is important to release the spirits of shamens dotted around each chapter. Once you have completed the game you can go back and find the shamen staffs and the shamens bodies that you may have missed. I enjoyed how as the game progresses the games environmental puzzles become grandeur often requiring you to use water to fill large parts of a level so you can get to the next part. There are platforming parts but these are not really the main part of the game. This is more about the journey and the experience you have throughout and for me that’s where it’s true beauty lies.

AUDIO

The audio in Spirit of the North is wonderfully composed by Joseph Gifford, but there is an issue in that it tends to loop over and over and soon enough you hear all of the tracks. What is here is beautiful but I wanted more and that may be greedy of me to say but it’s only because it was so good. The atmosphere created is excellent with the sounds of the earth which sounds like it’s moving or shuddering, cracks in the rocks as you run over them and the Fox itself with it’s little barks. It all makes for a very mesmerizing atmosphere and one that draws you into the lush visuals.

VISUALS & PERFORMANCE

The visuals in Spirit of the North are stunning in places but unfortunately Spirit of the North really chugs along at times which you will notice. When running the frames skip and the game almost at times comes to a stand still. I notice this a lot more when passing chapter 5 but the first few chapters is not as noticeable.

I had multiple crashes where I lost quite a lot of progress as the game only saves when you get to a save point which was rather frustrating. There is pop in which again is noticeable, glitches and things which you think should not happen like carrying a staff in your mouth straight through rocks, or when your fox becomes completely stuck. Some of the issues are of course minor and again some even forgivable given the size of the studio making this and for the most part it’s an incredible feat. However, the game has already been released elsewhere and so I think it’s right to expect that Switch owners should expect more out of the overall product.

Another issues is there is a couple of chapters which are rather dark and one which is almost pitch black. I could not play these in handheld and needed to play docked and increase brightness. On the small screen these areas where just too dark to see anything properly and you can really notice the downgrade more that it seems in other games.

See Also
mousecraft

When the Spirit of the North is running smooth it’s a sight to behold, lush meadows, wonderful snowy mountains and waterfalls and one of the chapters later in the game is just sublime in it’s visuals and I just wonder whether it’s been poorly optimized or if the Switch just cannot cope with the visual fidelity on display. While there are issues, I still enjoyed the game but it is something you need to be aware of when going in. I have not had an opportunity to play this on a PS4 so I cannot attest to its performance elsewhere.

VALUE

In the end all said and done you are looking at about 4 hours to complete Spirit of the North. The game will cost £19,99 for UK buyers and $24,99 for USA and 20.99 for our EU friends. There is also a physical edition and a signature edition physical from Merge which is rather more expensive, but you get a bunch of cool extras.

  • Story - 7/10
    7/10
  • Gameplay - 7/10
    7/10
  • Audio - 7/10
    7/10
  • Visuals & Performance - 7/10
    7/10
  • Value - 7/10
    7/10

Summary

I enjoyed the environmental puzzles, beautiful scenery, and music all together form a very relaxing experience which is sometimes is exactly what is needed to chill after a hard days work. There are some issues with the controls being rather clunky and performance issues which drag it down on the Nintendo Switch but if you can put up with these issues, I am hoping Merge will work with the developers to release a patch. Spirit of the North is a gorgeous game and has a worthwhile story to tell which I found compelling and when the credit’s rolled left me pondering but also smiling which was worth the entry price.

Overall
7/10
7/10

Pros

  • Stunning visuals
  • Soundtrack
  • Story

Cons

  • Framerate issues
  • Some glitches
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