A Lack of Spirit
HIGH Environmentalist themes of natural beauty and peace.
LOW Atrocious movement and platforming. Glitches.
WTF Seeing the beauty of Iceland in heavily downgraded form.
There are few titles that garner my respect based on ambition alone, and of those, none fail as spectacularly as Spirit of the North. At its best, it’s a tribute to natural wonder in an interactive, immersive form. At worst, this third person puzzle-adventure struggles to generate enough interest to keep a player going.
As a wordless story without narration, North follows a red fox whose adventure begins with an encounter with the fox spirit of the Northern Lights in a location ostensibly inspired by Iceland’s natural scenery. Once inhabited by human civilization – apparent from skeletal remains found in the area — the environments provide ample spiritual associations, including the red-stained skies which indicate the player’s path to objectives.
By using different kinds of spiritual energy borrowed from the fox spirit, corrupted obstacles in the environment must be removed. I appreciated this design choice, as it moves away from violence in favor of environmentalism.
Aside from accumulating and using spiritual energy, there’s a lot of platforming to be done. At times, the scenery truly comes alive — moments like helplessly gliding down a waterfall, jumping from a natural fountain or zipping through the air with spiritual energy are where North is at its strongest.
The scene that most inspired me in this respect is one where the player’s fox breaks its leg after a fall. Throughout the next chapter, its movement is limited to a slow limp, which is ended only by the healing grace of the fox spirit soon after.
While I appreciated these themes, North comes up short in gameplay. The controls are stiff, sprinting is limited, walking is frustratingly slow and jumping is awkward and physically unrealistic, feeling both imprecise and slippery.
The solutions to puzzles are extremely straightforward — some require platforming and others a logical use of the magical spirit abilities, but many are so simple that they’re almost ‘accidentally’ solved. Aside from these fairly obvious tasks, the huge environments offer little reason to explore and serve as filler terrain.
From a narrative point of view, I couldn’t make out much about the plot aside from a side objective of bringing scepters to their skeletal owners, pleasing their spirits. It felt like the purpose of North was the experience itself, which unfortunately did not satisfy despite my appreciation of its non-violent gameplay and spiritual/regenerative themes.
Aside from the unsatisfying gameplay and absent plot, what remains of North is a somewhat relaxing, sometimes frustrating breeze through inspiring visuals. Unfortunately, the atmosphere and environments aren’t as impressive as they should be in the Switch version that this review is based on.
Sadly, my drive to persist was sapped by a series of glitches in one section that led me to replay the same should-have-been-easy bit over and over again. That was bad enough, but combined with the poor controls, lack of engaging gameplay, an inability to manually save and infrequent checkpoints, every session was a slog.
Writing a negative review for Spirit of the North is tough because on paper, it seems like something I’d fall in love with. That said, it’s just not a good experience — my appreciation for its non-violent content and environmental themes can’t carry its many shortcomings.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Infuse Studio and published by Merge Games. It is currently available on PC, PS4 and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Nintendo Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. There is no violence, blood or any scares throughout the game, so this won’t cause any issues for kids.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I did not experience any audio cues or narrative which was essential. I’d say this title is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
David has had a passion for writing since childhood, but rather than writing stories, he started reading them and figured that the only way a Harry Potter universe would truly come to life would be in a videogame. His favorite genre in literature, dystopian fiction, seemed to have especially unlimited potential in this new medium. Despite appreciating and regularly engaging with many different art forms, David's dedicated himself mostly to the playable one.
Born and raised a Dutchman, David can tell you everything about 'stroopwafels' and what it's like to live in the liberal capital of the world. That is, if he isn't holed up in his room and enjoying the American entertainment industry.