A beautiful Icelandic setting and a cutesy fox protagonist – what more could you need when looking for a pleasant gaming adventure? After launching on the PlayStation 4 and PC late last year, Spirit of the North has now made its way to the Nintendo Switch. It brings with it a striking and charming journey that has its share of impressive moments, though it also has some flaws that can really hold the experience back.
Spirit of the North is a little sparse on narrative detail, with no real introduction given to players as they are put in the role of a fox that is wandering across a beautiful land as it looks to follow the trail of the ‘Guardian of the Northern Lights’ (which takes on the ghostly form of another fox). There’s not much else to it than that, with the game featuring no words but rather subtle story-telling elements that are told through environmental details that will demand some open interpretation from the player. That’s not a bad thing though; there’s enough going on to keep you invested in the journey enough not to tire of it, even if you might not fully understand what’s going on all of the time.
Your adventure sees you travelling through a myriad of stunning environments that don’t only look good on the Nintendo Switch but are also fairly expansive in size. Spirit of the North is mostly a linear experience, but you’ll still get the opportunity to explore some of its more open areas. Outside of some collectibles that see you returning hidden staffs to their deceased owners (it’s not as morbid as it sounds), there isn’t a whole lot to discover when venturing off the beaten trail – the attractive landscapes and vistas do make exploration feel like a worthwhile endeavour though.
The bulk of your time in Spirit of the North will be spent solving puzzles, with each mixing up elements of platforming and the use of the abilities you unlock as you progress through the game. These abilities are tied to a special energy that you can refill by interacting with the blue flowers that are scattered across the environment, with each use of an ability taking up an energy charge. These abilities could be used to transfer energy to an object to clear a path, to unleash a burst of destructive power, or even to project your fox’s presence, just to name a few – there are a decent variety at your disposal that are used in some clever and intuitive ways throughout the game, with each giving the fox an all-new creative way to progress through its journey.
The puzzles of Spirit of the North are well designed so you won’t grow bored of them, though they’ll rarely challenge your puzzle-solving skills. It’s always pretty clear when you’ll need to use one of your abilities and there weren’t any moments during my time playing where I was left scratching my head wondering what I needed to do. If you’re looking for a challenging experience, you won’t find it in Spirit of the North.
Whilst the puzzles were enjoyable for the most part, there was one problem I did encounter across a few of them. It came with each ability’s dependence on energy consumption, with the extended use of your abilities requiring you to recharge your energy meter. This means returning to those aforementioned blue flowers time and time again, with some backtracking involved when completing what should be the simplest of tasks. There were a few occasions where I’d work through a platforming segment only to find I didn’t have the energy to use an ability which was required to progress further, meaning I’d have to not only backtrack to a flower but also do the same platforming all over again… believe me when I say it could get pretty annoying.
Admittedly, most puzzles are found in smaller areas where one of the flowers is never too far away, so it isn’t really too much fuss to go back and recharge your energy for the most part. However, the long (and unskippable) animation that the fox makes when absorbing the energy makes each instance feel all the more repetitive, which doesn’t help if you’re already frustrated at having to recharge your energy. It just isn’t a great gameplay mechanic and it certainly doesn’t compliment Spirit of the North’s otherwise enjoyable puzzle design.
Another issue comes with the game’s controls, with it feeling a little finicky to control the fox on occasions. When you’re in the more open areas it’s easy enough to get around, but it could get tricky in those locations where a bit more precision is required. It never felt overly simple to just line up precise manoeuvres or hit accurate jumps, and whilst you do get used to the controls the more you play, I wish they could’ve felt a bit more intuitive from the get-go. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t game-breaking by any means, but you can expect to feel a little frustrated when you have to work through a platforming segment all over again because the awkward controls made you miss an otherwise straight-forward jump…
Spirit of the North offers a novel and charming adventure, but there were a few too many annoyances to be found within its gameplay to make it essential playing. Whilst the puzzles were clever in design and the environments both stylish and vibrant, the awkward controls and some dull gameplay mechanics just held things back a bit too much.
Despite these flaws, I did have fun with Spirit of the North – I just wish that some aspects of its design were a bit more streamlined and accessible to make the experience that bit more enjoyable.
Developer: Infuse Studio
Publisher: Merge Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC