Journey across the vast tundra in all its beauty to battle a poisonous blight killing everything in its path with the help of your spirit companion in Infuse Studio’s action-adventure Spirit of the North.
Spirit in the North is a 3rd Person action platformer inspired by the legends of the Northern lights and its guardian, a magical fox spirit. Set amidst locations and scenery inspired by real-life locations in Iceland, the game is split into 8 chapters which progress the story to its satisfying conclusion with an automatic checkpoint system deployed to save progress. Similar to PS4 indie classic Journey in its premise, Spirit of the North keeps things simple and players at a distance from the detail whilst relying on its art style and environment to draw players into its world.
The eponymous “North” in the title is beautifully represented as a frozen paradise that blends a generous colour palette of blues and whites to create scenery and imagery associated with colder climates. As you progress past the initial introduction and tutorial levels, the game opens up with areas on the perimeter of the frost with running water and plants growing through the snow and ice amidst the rocks and crevices you investigate. These mixed with the supernatural powers of the Spirit and the tribal imagery illuminated by its power add an almost magical feel to the already beautiful design.
Whilst on PC and PS4 the design is presented clear and realised, it’s quickly apparent on the Nintendo Switch that some sacrifices have had to be made in order to get it onto Nintendo’s system, graphics can be a little grainy in places and the ambitious art style take a bit of a pounding in a lack of clean sharp edges and areas with a lack of detail. It’s somewhat improved in portable mode but the larger the screen estate the more it degrades so those with 50” plus setups are going to be disappointed in areas.
The narrative is delivered through cave paintings, murals and carvings found throughout the world, with no text or spoken supporting context; many of these are left to the imagination of the player. Whilst the inclusion of additional explanation may have cleared up questions players had around the specifics of the tale, it most certainly would have broken the immersion into the role of the animal protagonist when faced with alien/human depictions of their fight against the blight.
As the fox progresses its plight to save the land you’ll unlock various powers and abilities which assist in the numerous puzzles that’ll stand in your way. Some don’t jump out immediately as puzzles and instead present themselves as traversal challenges presented by the level design whilst others are more clearly defined as needing a particular ability to enable progression.
The main path gives you a variety of challenges answered by the usual tutorial upon unlocking abilities via story progression, later these become an inventive process of utilising each power in different ways together to solve more complex challenges. Whilst some thought is required Spirit of the North never reaches a point of frustration for players and, with some forethought, most are relatively straight forward. Most of the more difficult puzzles are less to do with knowing what to do but how fast Spirit of the North wants you to do it.
Aside from the main narrative, Spirit of the North also has a side quest involving the indigenous homosapian and their release from the blight but it’s not mandatory for progression or for players who want to concentrate on the central story. For those simply looking to explore, however, it locks players out unless they can complete many of the game’s puzzles and each chapter can be considered an isolated area or world in itself with no extensive backtracking between disparate areas.
The journey is supported by a great soundtrack which really draws on the isolation faced by the fox and its journey through the environment. It’s almost mesmerizing. At times I found myself simply sitting with my earphones on listening to the orchestral melody whilst the fox entered its idle animations. It really is a highlight and shows how much a great soundtrack can support the vision of the developer. It might not reach the bar set by Moon Studios with the music from Ori and the Blind Forest / Will of the Wisps but it definitely is up there.
Potentially guilty of trying to reach too far on lower-powered systems, Spirit of the North is a solitary journey through a beautiful and well-realised world which will keep most players entertained to the end but without the stress-inducing scenarios found in similar games in the genre. Almost serene at times it’s relaxing to play, in the most part due to its great soundtrack, leaving most of its background story to the imagination which makes the experience different for each different player.