Even before its release across the iOS platform, Spirits has taken home the Aesthetics Award at IndieCade and earned a Sense of Wonder Night 2010 nomination at the Tokyo Game Show. The truth is that Swedish/German developer Spaces of Play have come a long way since their earlier ported iOS effort, Mr. Bounce. This time, rather than port the game over, Spaces of Play has developed Spirits from the ground up to run on iDevices — and, man, can you feel it.
While I don’t want to give away too much in this preview since a review should be out shortly, I will go ahead and suggest the game as a must-buy from the get-go. The Aesthetics Award was no joke; Spirits is fucking gorgeous. Its 2D dynamic backgrounds are a sight to behold, and the variation in sky color throughout the levels is all the more reason to continue playing it. I should note that it would probably strike an even better chord had I owned an iPad. I was fortunate enough to try it out on the iPad at IndieCade, and, quite obviously, it looked better then than it did on my iPhone 3G S. I’m certain that the Retina display will remedy this for other iPhone owners, but if you’ve got an earlier version you’re out of luck.
That’s not to say the stylized artwork doesn’t look good. In fact, if anything, it’s still one of the best looking games on the iOS. It’s just that, of course, HD is higher quality and has a better chance of making you cry. Regardless, there are numerous reasons you want to play this game: it sounds amazing, looks beautiful, has a challenging level design, and plays smoothly. But what’s most important in a game is gameplay, and Spirits has a unique approach.
In short, what you are trying to do in Spirits is get a specified number of spirits from point A to point B. Having played through the first 17 of 40 levels, I can already say this is a much tougher task than it may sound like. To accomplish your objective, you must tap spirits to select actions which manipulate the environment at their expense. You have four actions at your disposal:
1. Grow – Using up one spirit to grow into a vine-like apparatus allow all succeeding spirits to walk upwards.
2. Dig – In certain areas where the ground permits, you can use up a spirit to dig in a certain direction, opening up new depths (forgive the pun) for all other spirits to move into.
3. Blow – Since spirits jump once they reach the end of a ledge, blow is extremely useful. In exchange for one spirit, you’re able to set up a strong wind blowing in the direction of your choice.
4. Block – Block is pretty much the opposite of blowing, as blocking will allow you to stifle the wind.
Not only do these actions require caution and precision, they’re also a lot of fun to manipulate. They can even be combined to double their effects. For example, if you set up two spirits to blow in the same direction, then the wind will be magnified and all succeeding spirits will travel further. Likewise, you can set spirits to blow in two separate but complementary directions, like up and diagonally. Rather than a straightforward approach where only one action will allow you to complete your objective, levels can ostensibly be solved by utilizing different methods. So, in essence, the gameplay in Spirits has a lot of depth.
Quite possibly the best feature in the game is the ability to look around each level while paused and manipulate spirits while doing so. It’s clear the iPad is the best iDevice for the game because of this: you don’t have to zoom in and out and pause constantly to check what’s around you but rather see the entire level as it is from the beginning. Still, Spirits is an outstanding blend of puzzle and strategy.
The game felt complete, and word from Spaces of Play indicates that Spirits should be released very soon (November). Keep an eye out on DIYGamer for news and be sure to stay tuned for the interview with Spaces of Play and the review of the game once it hits the App Store. It’s not often we get must-own titles on mobile platforms, but Spaces of Play is one developer that is clearly working to change that.