At first glance, Spirits looks a little like Botanicula, a game that independent developer Amanita Design released earlier this year. Both are point-and-click puzzle games, and both feature fragile creatures plucked straight out of nature. But the similarities end there. While Botanicula was prone to its problems, Spirits is a total mess — a primitive take on the classic Lemmings.
The 1991 original Lemmings was full of traps and obstacles that the critters could bypass by assuming different roles. Spirits, which looks a lot nicer than the game it’s inspired by, basically follows the same concept: You guide a predetermined number of spirits through a hazardous environment while avoiding spikes and manipulating air currents, which can whisk you away to undesirable places. When a spirit uses a certain function (only select ones are available at any given time) — either digging, blowing gusts of air, building a leafy ladder, or blocking wind — it sacrifices itself to help the rest to safety. As long as the minimum quota of spirits enter the vortex at the end, you’ll successfully finish the level. Of course, completionists are welcome to find new ways around to obtain a perfect score, which involves illuminating out-of-reach plants and losing as few spirits as possible, but you may not care to.
The core problem with the game comes down to its main mechanic: controlling the spirits. Pausing the game allows you to assess your environment and plan out your actions, but most of the time the spirits won’t react the way you expect them to — through no fault of your own, but rather the finicky programming. Sometimes you’ll know exactly how you need to approach a situation, but getting the spirits to do what you want them to is another matter entirely. Sometimes they’ll even stray from the course the others will follow, throwing your chances of success askew. A puzzle game shouldn’t force players to resort to blind trial and error, but that’s what Spirit does — and far too often.
Spirits could have been an enjoyable game if it managed to innovate a little, but even Lemmings seems to offer more personality and fun. The gameplay doesn’t appropriately challenge the player to learn new techniques or adapt to existing ones, but rather to use them at random depending on what nook or crevice they get themselves stuck in. Solutions feel contrived and are difficult to carry out even when you know what you’re doing, and the music and environments largely remain the same.
At least there isn’t a time limit (the spirits will usually kill themselves off if you fail to act accordingly), and you can assign tasks to any of the spirits while the game is paused, allowing for simultaneous execution. The game is generous with how many spirits you need to pass per level, and although the bar is sometimes set agonizingly high, you’ll probably fret over directing the spirits more than you will saving them.
The game is available on other platforms, including mobile, so it’s possible that PC (this version was tested on Steam) simply isn’t the right home for Spirits. Regardless, this isn’t a game you’ll want to pay $10 for.
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