App Review: Spirits

In 1991, DMA Design developed Lemmings, a game which was critically acclaimed due to its unique, yet addictive, management-style design.

It involved players guiding creatures known as Lemmings to an exit, overcoming a variety of obstacles along the way. This was achieved by designating each Lemming with a specific task or job, such as building a ladder, digging a tunnel, or even imploding to unearth new passages. This collective play encouraged players to always think two steps ahead, stressing out their ability to multi-task and manage effectively.

You’re probably wondering why I have ranted on about Lemmings up until now. Keep reading to find out.

Developers Spaces of Play have released Spirits ($2.99†) to the iOS platform, a game which embraces the manic yet rewarding nature of DMA Design’s 1991 masterpiece. It aims to provide its players with the same management-style formula of the former, tweaked for iPod, iPhone and iPad, with a few new bells and whistles thrown in for equal measure.

However, has it been able to recreate the refined game mechanics, the hectic style of play, and the general addictiveness that Lemmings possessed? Or will it sadly fall short off the mark? Let’s find out, based on the following:

  • Gameplay and Controls
  • Presentation and Graphics
  • Audio
  • Replay Value
  • Value for Money

Gameplay and Controls

The storyline of Spirits is non-existent. I am not surprised by this, as an over-arching story simply would not have suited the style and nature of this game. Instead you are handed an introductory video; or slideshow; showing the origin of the Spirits, and the primary objective of the game: guide the Spirits to the spiraling portal.

The objective of the game: get the Spirits to the portal.

Spirits, as explained, takes inspiration from Lemmings, where the player is given the task of guiding a certain number of creatures, known as Spirits, safely to a portal. Along the way though, there are a variety of obstructions to hinder their progress. This is where the individual significance of the Spirits comes in.

The Spirits move on their own accord; that is, the player has no control of their movement. They move in a fixed linear path (left to right; right to left), and change directions respectively on contact with another object; such as a wall for instance. Each level begins with the Spirits slowly emerging one by one from a pile of leaves.

There are an abundance of obstacles and traps to deter the Spirits. Obstacles range from path-blocking mushrooms to deadly spikes, all deviously placed to make the player think two steps ahead. One of the most significant obstacles, as odd as it sounds, is the wind. The Spirits are easily blown away, so predicting the wind path and using it to your advantage is vital.

Every Spirit has the ability to change/morph into a tool in order to aid their comrades. There are 4 different options to choose from, and they are all single-use. Each has the option of choosing which direction for the action to be performed in. Depending on the level, only the actions which are necessary are available for use. They include:

  • Grow: This option transforms the Spirit into a step-ladder composed of leaves. It is used to climb up ledges. They can be stacked on top of each other, but cannot be removed once activated.
  • Dig: This turns the Spirit into a make-shift shovel, burrowing a short distance into the ground. Can be used to clear obstacles and dig through walls. The Spirit simply disappears once the action is performed.
  • Blow: This transforms the Spirit into a small cloud, continuously blowing a strong wind for its comrades to pick up. This is used to reach higher ledges, or traverse large gaps. Stacking will result in a stronger wind current. Unlike some of the other abilities, this can be turned off when it is no longer needed.
  • Block: This transforms the Spirit into a boulder, which increases in size as it rolls. It can be directed left or right. This is used to block wind currents. Once it finishes rolling, it fades, allowing other Spirits to walk through it. The wind-blocking effect still continues.

Each Spirit has the ability to transform in order to help its comrades.

The controls in Spirits are very simplistic and straightforward, but are very effective in a game of this nature. To perform an action with a Spirit, simply tap on it to display the transformation options. Tap the option to confirm. The game then displays the directions for which the action can be executed in. Tap the direction to confirm. The Spirit will then proceed to begin the action. Sounds simple, no?

Controlling the view of each stage is very simple as well. Zooming in and out is performed with a pinch of the fingers, while panning around the level is done with a flick/drag of the fingers.

These are actually the only controls needed to play the game. It then comes down to on-the-spot thinking and multi-tasking constantly with each of the individual Spirits. However, there are also little intuitive things that have been included in the game that makes Spirits a very fluid and free-flowing gaming experience.

Pausing is an example of this. It brings everything in motion to a standstill. The player is then able to zoom in and out, pan around the level, and give directions to Spirits. This is a very ingenious option to have, as players can halt time during those moments of hectic management overload, see all the events that are happening at hand, or create different plans of action at any moment. For a game like Spirits, this is a very useful feature.

Pausing allows players to adjust to the level the way they want.

Tapping on a Spirit when it is in-flight, or when it is not in contact with the ground will give the player an image of its trajectory. This is shown by a small beam of falling light, which forms a patch of white grass as it lands. This is very handy, as the rest of the Spirits behind it will follow suit with the same path of trajectory as well, thus alerting players if any other courses of action are needed.

Aside from the main objective, most of the levels will ask you to collect a number of plants. This is done by simply having a Spirit come into contact with it, or hitting it with a beam of falling light. Each level has a “perfect” solution, so achieving these is paramount for 100% completion. Often the plants will be located in places which look impossible to reach, but they add a nice additional level of difficulty to an already difficult game.

The only thing that irked me was the absence of a fast-forward mechanism. Spirits are very slow in motion, so it would often become tedious waiting for them to get from point A to point B in the much larger levels. I understand that the nature of a game like Spirits probably resulted in its absence, but there were several moments where I was just screaming for one. The inclusion of this would have been very useful.

Developers Spaces of Play have done a great job with Spirits, creating a solid game that is both fun and addictive. Like Lemmings, it provides players with a challenging yet rewarding experience. The learning curve is balanced, the game mechanics are polished, and the controls have been tweaked in order to be streamlined for the iOS platform.

Gameplay and Controls: ★★★★½

Presentation and Graphics

One of the main aspects of Spirits that stood out like a sore thumb for me was its graphics. To put it simply; they are absolutely gorgeous. While many AAA titles today stimulate our visual senses with their sublime 3D models, detailed textures, and advanced lighting effects, Spirits proves that it can deliver visually in spades with its hand-drawn, pastel-style art direction.

When Spirits is started up, right from the get-go, players are introduced to a menu that screams mystique. Not only is it straightforward, it also serves to give players an impression of what they are going to expect from the game. It emits a feeling of ambience; a feeling of speculation and inquisitiveness. Navigation, as said, is simple, and the “Play” button jump starts the player right into the game.

The menu; the artwork used here gives players a feel for the game.

Sadly, the same cannot be said about the sub-menus in Spirits. Whilst the main menu looks great, navigating to the sub-menus is a very different story altogether. You are presented with very dull graphics, and navigation is very clunky. “Select Level” is a simple list of the levels. While I do not mind this, due to the large nature of the buttons, only three are available to choose at any one time. This means it can become a very tedious task just to select a level. I also would have liked to be able to instant-scroll by tapping the status bar, but it was strangely absent here.

The sub-menus; they are very clunky to navigate.

As I played, I was amazed at the effect that the art direction had on me; it was as if I was interacting with a painting. The graphics served wonders in complimenting the theme of Spirits, and emphasized the mysteriousness, intrigue, and wonder of the game. The various backgrounds look stunning, and the color-palette does a great job with accentuating the presence of the Spirits and other elements in the levels. The only niggle for me was the graphics being slightly unfocused after zooming in, but for a game like this, it will not occur that much.

The hand-drawn backgrounds look simply amazing.

Animation is another aspect that developers Spaces of Play have done a great job with, both for realism and to complement the experience. The motion of the Spirits is very fluid and natural, and their transformations are effortlessly transitioned. One of the things that I was impressed with was the visual representation of the wind. In Spirits, it is shown by the motion of particles, which show both the strength and the direction of the wind. The animation here is flawless, and the physics behind it is impeccable.

Developers Spaces of Play have done a fantastic job with the graphics in Spirits. The decision to use hand-drawn pastel-style artwork does wonders with the theme of the game, and the animation done here is fantastic. It is really a shame that this is let down somewhat by the clunky, dull sub-menus and some focusing issues.

Presentation and Graphics: ★★★★½


Not to be outdone, the audio in Spirits, like the graphics, is fantastic. Composed by Martin Straka, the orchestral score here does an absolutely amazing job in emphasizing the game’s art direction and theme. Listening to it gives the feeling of innocence, and also curiosity, which is a representation of the actual Spirits themselves.

The instrumental audio here is simply brilliant. The music serves to not only to highlight the theme, but also is great to listen to while thinking. It is ambient, and I did often find myself spacing out a little bit as I listened to it. There are a few tracks here, so the feeling of repetitiveness will not set in any time soon.

While not in copious amounts, some sound effects have been included in the game. These range from the sounds for the transformations, to little chimes when navigating the menus. Like sound effects should be, they are not direct, so as to not interfere with the main audio of the game.

Developers Spaces of Play have done an amazing job with the audio. The ambient, orchestral score compliments the art direction and theme of the game, and simply has to be listened to when playing this game. Definitely needs a pair of headphones.

Audio: ★★★★★

Replay Value

As to be expected with this type of game, Spirits offers little in terms of longevity and content after the campaign.

The game boasts 40 levels, but after they are completed, there is very little left to do. The incentive to collect all the plants from each level in order to attain a “perfect” completion definitely does extend play time, but there is a limit to how much motivation players will have to actually accomplish this. Completists will revel with this, but for casual gamers, they will only go so far before putting this down.

Spirits provides a very nifty world ranking for the player’s efforts, but that is as far as it goes in terms of social integration; there is no Game Center or Openfeint support. Surprisingly, there is a lack of achievements, which I feel would have complemented the game’s direction, and added another level of imagination. While I usually would not care less for them, achievements for completing specific tasks and so on would have been a nice addition to the game.

Developers Spaces of Play could have added some more content for the post-game, but the 40 brilliant, yet deviously-designed levels and the incentive for a “perfect” completion does provide its players with a good solid play through.

Replay Value: ★★★

Value for Money

Spirits currently retails for $2.99 on the App Store. While this is noticeably more expensive than the typical $0.99 games that dominate the charts, the distinct game design, beautiful hand-drawn graphics, and ambient orchestral score do enough in terms of content to justify its price tag. I do see this game’s monetary value reducing in the future, but it certainly is not a “rip-off” as it stands with its current price.

Value for Money: ★★★★

Final Thoughts

Developers Spaces of Play have released a game that not only is unique, but is simply a joy to play. It is able to recreate the addictiveness of Lemmings, while also adding a fresh coat of paint to what is already a great formula. The beautiful hand-drawn graphics, the ambient instrumental score, and the solid learning curve of Spirits make this game a must-have, and definitely should be checked out. Highly recommended.

Cumulative Score:

† All prices are in US currency.
This review was written by the Review Team. Cumulative scores are rounded to the nearest half or full star.
All accessories, applications, themes, tweaks, or other products were purchased by iFans at their respective prices unless stated otherwise.

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