Spirits is a gorgeous award-winning puzzler where the aim of the game is to lead the glowing, ethereal spirits to a revolving goal on each level. You guide the spirits by invoking their powers; one blows a current of air, one builds a bridge, another digs a tunnel and a further one blocks air flow. If you’re already getting a sense of familiarity from the descriptive, you might be right.
Spirits is, gameplay-wise, very much like the classic game Lemmings. In both games, you have to guide the creatures to safety, utilising their various abilities to overcome obstacles and more.
So, how is this going to work? Is Spirits just a clone of a much-loved gaming classic? Or is it an altogether different experience?
Essence and Soul
In Spirits, Autumn is on its way, and as each leaf falls from its tree, a spirit is released and must return home. The spirits are quite autonomous and will begin walking around as soon as they wake up. To help them reach their goal, you have to utilise their unique powers as the environment sees fit. While there are 47 different levels in the game, the initial challenges require you just to use a blowing power, where one spirit creates a perpetual air stream, which lets the other spirits float towards their goal.
As levels progress, new abilities are required. Some spirits can dig tunnels, while others can create leafy bridges. There are those which make blowing clouds which subsequently create strong air-flow around the level. This, in turn, can gently guide the spirits to the revolving portal. At other times however, the air-flow can hinder progress. Here, a final power can block air currents to overcome this problem. With the progressively challenging levels and distinct powers available, the game requires clever strategy and logic.
Controlling the spirits is relatively easy. Simply tap on one to bring up the small abilities menu and select which ability you want the creature to have. Then, select which direction you want that power to be deployed in (for example dig downwards or blow upwards). As you create a pathway through the level, you must ensure to avoid spikes and other obstacles which kill the spirits. Levels do become increasingly trickier so you really need a good level of creativity to solve the puzzle of getting the spirits home.
I’ve always felt that gameplay is the most important factor when reviewing a game. Sure, other elements are important, but if the game is fun to play, engaging and even addictive, the rest do not matter quite as much. And the killer feature for me with Spirits is its gameplay. It’s immediately familiar if you’ve played Lemmings or a similar game, and each level is an entirely different puzzle from the one before, which keeps the game fresh and engaging.
There is some incredibly clever design in the levels themselves, yet it is not so structured that you cannot find your own way to complete the section. You simply have the environment to overcome, the tools to do so in terms of spirit abilities and the complete freedom to do it however you want to. This also means that even if you play through the same level several times, each can be a very different experience, depending on the strategy you use.
The game ultimately has huge longevity and, with a whopping 47 levels, is easily something you will be able to play for many months. Gameplay, then, is superb, but what about the rest of the game elements?
Spirits features smooth, 2D graphics and understated — but nonetheless impressive — animations. Quite a few other indie games I’ve played use a kind of black-silhouette-on-coloured-background theme which usually looks quite vivid and distinctive. For examples, look no further than titles like World of Goo or They Need to be Fed. While Spirits includes this familiar style, it’s as if it is reversed. The spirits themselves are a glowing ethereal white, sharply contrasted by the much darker backgrounds.
The various micro-animations additionally give the game a very rich feel. From the floating spirits and the growing seedlings to the tiny specs of light which indicate air flow, it’s all incredibly detailed and well executed. The look and feel of the game subsequently complements the diverse and challenging gameplay. It makes playing Spirits a mostly relaxing pursuit, great for winding down too.
If the cleverly designed gameplay and rich visual imagery wasn’t enough to make you feel you were playing a top game, the sound enhances the experience even further. Expect several delicately ambient soundscapes which match the gameplay perfectly. If you can, try wearing headphones for an even deeper experience. I’ve seen otherwise brilliant games ruined by shoddy or annoying music, but the sound in Spirits is the kind you’ll want to listen to.
Similar to Lemmings?
There is little doubt that the gameplay in Spirits is at least partly inspired by the PC classic Lemmings. However, controls and purpose aside, I found the two to be very different experiences. Lemmings features a far larger number of skills and abilities yet lacks the kind of relaxing gaming atmosphere you enjoy with Spirits. Spirits is far more immersive and far more intimate, and it’s clear that far more has gone into making it an otherwise unique title. It’s perhaps a game you experience rather than just ‘play’.
I think the game probably has more in common with the other independent games listed previously, or others such as Treemaker and Spoing. These games go out of the way to engage with gamers, fusing genius level design with challenging obstacles to overcome. It takes gaming back to where gameplay was of foremost importance, not dazzling and realistic 3D graphics. That said, Spirit is still a rich visual treat and the sound, as discussed, is likewise superb.
Spirits is a challenging and brilliantly designed game that looks and sounds amazing. The cunning and engrossing gameplay is a unique and captivating experience that differentiates the game from its Lemmings roots. It is an excellent example of sublime indie game development and I definitely recommend trying it out.