• Developer: Infuse Studio
  • Publisher: Independent
  • Release Date: November 1st, 2019 (PS4), TBA (XBO, PC)
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
  • Price: $24.99
  • Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
  • Review Code Provided: Yes

Infuse Studio’s Spirit of the North seemingly has a lot going for it. It’s a purely visual experience with no spoken dialogue to be found, while also being a platformer about companionship in a desolate world. While the game certainly delivers on the story end of things, the rest of the game is kind of a mixed bag. The visuals of the beautifully designed landscapes in this game might keep you dazzled for a little, but the imprecise platforming controls and repetitive gameplay are just as likely to take you out. But, if you can stick with the game through all of its faults, you just might find a message that resonates with you.

The landscape design and art direction are some of the biggest strengths in Spirit of the North. From Icelandic mountainscapes to cavernous dungeons, this game features some beautifully crafted environments. In my time with the game, I felt the urge to just stop and take in my surroundings before moving on. Directing the camera as you walk through these landscapes can result in some pretty incredible shots, which you’ll probably want to take a lot of, as the game features several different landscapes for you to explore. Unfortunately, these visuals end up getting bogged down slightly by some noticeable technical issues, mainly having to do with the player character: the fox.

The fox itself looks great. It’s very detailed, and it’s animations seem had a lot of thought put into them, but it just doesn’t mesh too well with the rest of the game world. For example, the fox’s character model doesn’t exactly react naturally with the environment at times. This was most noticeable when walking across uneven surfaces, where the fox’s posture would stay the same no matter what, despite its position changing from flat to angled in response to walking on different types of ground. Seeing a fox stand on all four legs while at a 70 degree angle just felt very unnatural. Situations such as this occurred commonly throughout my experience, and generally broke any previously established immersion. Additionally, assets in the game world had a tendency to just load out occasionally. It was always relatively minor objects, such as decorative rocks or the like, but in a game where part of the experience is taking in your surroundings, it can definitely get in the way of that experience.

The gameplay is that of a 3rd-person adventure platformer with some puzzle elements, but it all feels a little undercooked. The platforming, in particular, feels like it could’ve used some fine tuning. Certain parts of the game call for precision platforming, which the mechanics of this game simply don’t allow for. The inability to control your momentum in midair can make some of those more precise jumps even harder — and with the game having no fail states, this means that any jumps you miss require you to climb back to up to where you were before, which in some cases can be quite the climb. Timing of jumps is another key issue I experienced in my time with Spirit of the North. Quite a few of these jumps require precision, but it can be a little difficult to get a good leap off of the very edge. Often times, I found myself having to start my jump a few steps back from the edge, which felt pretty early in terms of timing my jumps when comparing this to other platformers. The platforming is a large part of the game, and it leaves a lot to be desired, which is a shame, because it tries to play with a lot of unique ideas.

Throughout the game, you acquire 3 abilities: Spirit Dash, Spirit Bark, and Spirit Form. Spirit Dash allows you a short burst of speed, Spirit Bark allows you to charge up a devastating bark that can destroy environmental blockades, and Spirit Form allows you to briefly traverse the environment as a ghost of yourself; able to phase through certain walls and walk on water. These 3 abilities are instrumental when it comes to solving puzzles, and the game does a pretty good job of forcing you to use these abilities together in creative ways. For example: you might find yourself stuck behind a wall of thorns. Here, you would first use your Spirit Form ability, allowing you to phase through the wall, use Spirit Dash to jump across a large gap you couldn’t cover with your regular jump, and finish it off by using Spirit Bark to destroy a structure, which eliminates the wall of thorns.

I really appreciate these parts of the game for creating a variety of puzzles that take advantage of the unique properties each of these powers grant the player, but these parts still feel brought down by the aforementioned issues with the platforming at the core of these sections. I found myself stuck in a cycle during my time with this game. Every so often, I would encounter a situation that would require me to use the powers in an interesting or fun way, and then be dropped back into a platforming section that was simply too precise for the game’s imprecise controls as I went through the game’s story.

Spirit of the North tells a story of companionship, and there certainly is something to be said for the bold decision to tell the story of this game without words. There is no spoken dialogue throughout the whole game, often allowing the player to decipher the meaning of the story for themselves. What I take away from my time might not be what you take away, and that can lead to some thought provoking discussion. One thing that stuck out to me was just how well directed some of the cutscenes in this game are. Certain shots made me want to click the share button on my controller in order to preserve the moment, and in some cases, I did. There are some pretty emotionally heavy moments throughout the game, which is in part due to the soundtrack. The game’s soundtrack goes hand in hand with the environment Infuse Studio has laid out. Looking out over some of these massive levels is made all the more grand by the score, which, in some ways feels reminiscent of Marty O’Donnell’s work on the original Halo trilogy. It’s equal parts whimsical and grand, and makes the quieter, slower parts of the game all the more special.

At the end of the day, despite the faults of the core gameplay, Spirit of the North is redeemed by the amazing sense of wonder its environments, score, and story deliver. Many of its issues lie on the technical side, and quite a few will be impossible to ignore. But, if you’re able to look past that, youll surely find an experience that you won’t soon forget. In all, Spirit of the North has a lot of unrealized potential in terms of its gameplay, but what has been realized in the story and visuals has been done so in fantastic fashion, making for a wonderfully subtle, introspective piece of art that’s a little rough around the edges.

6.5/10

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