Spirit of the North is a game where players get to explore the vastness of an ancient civilization. As players progress through the vast area where we start, we’re guided by a lovely lady fox – oh did I mention you play as a red fox? She takes us to a place that showcases what must be done. Our mission is to get rid of the plague in this world, and we know this because it ‘kills’ us. When we awake, we discover that the spirit fox has granted us magical powers.
While I think the premise of this game is interesting, it has some shortcomings that need to be addressed. Despite that fact, I quite enjoyed my overall experience with the Spirit of the North.
Let’s talk about the gameplay first. Players begin their adventures in the middle of a snowy area with picturesque scenery that flanks all aspects of view. Coupled with the musical accompaniment, the experience is breathtaking (NO YOU’RE BREATHTAKING! *ahem* Anyways…) and since players have no idea what they are in for, we are given the chance to freely run around. At first, I did just that. I leaped and bounded onto small hills, experimenting with the controls, and didn’t push myself too far forwards. My fascination with this game took over. I mean, it’s not often we get to play a fox!
Once I was done gawking, I explored the area to discover a female spirit fox. I assumed that I was infatuated with her because she was the only living creature I had found to this point. While I was hooked on following this pretty fox to some end goal, I quickly became tired of traveling long distances before discovering my purpose.
The spirit fox takes us to a terrible place, a place that hurts us and knocks us out completely. But is this the end? Goodness no. The spirit fox TAKES POSSESSION OF US. *Laughs* No. Not really. She imbues us with magical powers. I like to think of it as possession because of an ability we get later on… Anyways, I discover the purpose of Spirit of the North, which is to clear the civilization of its corruption.
Magical abilities that we’ve been imbued with get rid of the corruption. This corruption can only be rid of by solving various puzzles that are strewn about the land. Each puzzle is extremely easy to comprehend but their execution can be a pain in the ass. For example, like most puzzle games, there is some type of quick run or fast travel ability. In Spirit of the North, players can run, but strangely they can do so for a short time. I would even argue that the run time is TOO short and only serves as a purpose in a specific puzzle where the fox must jump through portals to gain access to the next area. To me, it is clear that the short run time was meant to make this portal challenge a ‘puzzle’. It also serves as a way to needlessly elongate an experience when a game is lacking in substance. I’ll get to that point a little later…
If I were to give a brief explanation of how I feel about this game it would be that overall I enjoyed my experience, but had issues with several things like:
- The game is too long for what it is.
- Some chapters cover such a large area that forces the players to lose interest.
- Graphics are beautiful from afar but often caused issues with certain actions.
- The puzzles are frustrating to solve, not because they are hard, but because there is no direction, instructions, or even hint system. In fact, any sort of direction would have been more helpful.
- Players spend more time trying to deal with the platforming sections because the controls are often not responsive OR the environments’ textures will change in such a way that hinders puzzle solutions. This lead me to feel discouraged at times.
The above points cover the bulk of my issues with the game but make no mistake, Spirit of the North is not a bad game. It simply doesn’t have enough content for what it is. You see, I think about games like Myst or, if you want a more recent example, Obduction where players are dropped into a world littered with brilliant and complex puzzles. What keeps players interested are the multitudes of objects they can discover or interact with. These things might not solve any puzzles but they gave a sense of realism and wonder. Cyan Worlds is brilliant at crafting a puzzle game that tells a story through video footage as well as creating a compelling realistic atmosphere. Even in a game like Riven (which was arguably the hardest of the Myst series) had clues scattered throughout the different islands away from its puzzle solution. Still, there were many other objects to see or books read that gave life to those worlds. Spirit of the North is a contrast in comparison because players aren’t really told the story. And unlike other puzzle adventure games, it provides little satisfaction to the player. More of the story HAS to be present for a game like this to succeed, and while it is still playable and beautiful, it fails to keep players invested enough to complete the game.
That leaves the puzzles themselves which are two-fold. One of the puzzle types is finding the shaman staves. These staves must be returned to the bodies of the ancient people that players can find. While helping these shamans does not seem like they have much purpose other than for an achievement, the difficulty in finding these shamans can be more hassling than one might think as some of them are cleverly hidden. This particular set of puzzles don’t seem to have a purpose. I can only presume their inclusion was meant to showcase that there used to be people that inhabited the area of Spirit of the North. While this puzzle type is interesting, it does little to provide substance to the game.
The main focus is to solve puzzles that allow access to the next checkpoint. Often, to reach them, players have to do some light jumping. And while these sections aren’t very difficult, sometimes they are made to appear that way because of a variety of factors. Players cannot redirect midair and given the way that the fox moves, sometimes they end up moving in a direction that is unintended. This leads to a variety of aggravating misjumps. The kicker when it comes to the platforming has to do with bad texture layers that make the environment seem like there are paths that aren’t present. And from afar these sections often cause players to try for jumps that don’t actually exist. Thankfully, players can’t really die. Between the texture/collision issues, variable button responsiveness, and trajectory problems, the platforming in Spirit of the North is a bit of a pain. If there is one good thing I could say about its jumping, it’s that none of it is hard.
Audio and Music
As for the music and the audio in this game, I found myself enthralled. The audio in Spirit of the North is quite spectacular. With its soothing piano and string composition, I was sucked into the experience.
Spirit of the North’s composer Joseph Gifford definitely created a memorable soundtrack which was perhaps the best feature of the game. While the jumping sections were difficult due to the graphics, the music soothed my soul. It is nothing short of spectacular.
The rest of the audio was also amazing. I loved the sound of the water as it crashed down from higher locations or the cute little sneezing sounds when the fox was too close to corruption. I enjoyed the effects of magic swirling around the fox as well as the sliding sounds which were nothing short of breathtaking. My only gripe was that the fox sounded more like a dog when it barked at the flowers to gain magical energy but otherwise, the audio is wonderful.
Foxy Final Thoughts
While I really enjoyed playing this relaxing adventure puzzle game rooted in mystery, I feel like it missed its mark. I can forgive the graphical issues and the short running speed at which players can travel, but the world is littered with pieces of a story that isn’t quite there yet. I loved using the magical abilities to solve puzzles and I don’t mind the fact that there is no hand-holding in Spirit of the North. That said, I expected there to be more because including vast amounts of explorable areas without including more world lore and/or a better plotline is a disservice to the players. And this is the primary reason that it doesn’t rate higher for me.
Running around as a fox with magical abilities seemed like a grand time and if it wasn’t for my inherent curiosity and love of puzzle games, I might not have played as much of Spirit of the North as I did. The initial time of playing was wonderful and I did genuinely enjoy my time with it, but I wish there was substance to the title.