SpiritSphere DX is an air hockey and squash-style game where you strike a magic sphere instead of hitting a puck or ball. The game seems to take inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, 1992) in its art style, some alluding in-game text, and especially its core mechanic of deflecting a projectile orb. Its greatest strength is the many game modes, especially “Hand2Hand”, where two players are pitted against each other by holding opposite ends of a single Nintendo Switch system. However, the pinball-like gameplay may not hold the attention of players who are not already interested in this sort of game, despite its many additions.
This game had previously been released on Steam as SpiritSphere in January of 2017. I first saw this game, however, just a few weeks ago, as an upcoming eShop release, and immediately requested to review it because there seemed to be no game quite like it before, and I had fond memories of the moments in A Link to the Past which seemed to be the inspiration for its projectile-deflecting gameplay.
In general, you begin by choosing one of several characters that move and strike the sphere differently. The sort of default character, Lin, has balanced stats and strikes the sphere with a sword. A stronger character called Dwarf throws an axe and can accelerate into a heavy melee spin (I found his trade-off with speed too great to overcome, personally). Another character, Buster, which resembles a dog or a cat (it’s intentionally left ambiguous), can move faster than the other characters to intercept the sphere on his side of the court. There’s also an option to change the color of each character, and there are several additional characters, which can be unlocked.
There’s really two styles of matches in the game: a traditional air hockey-style match where opponents hit a sphere back and forth, attempting to pass the sphere beyond a goal which lies behind their opponent, and a squash-style match where opponents face the same direction and try to bounce the sphere off of a single wall in turn. There’s also a sort of “Frisbee” mode buried in the options of the game, “I’m here to play Frisbee”, in which flying discs are thrown into the playing field and can be caught by moving to where they will land by initiating a dash or a roll.
The core gameplay is mixed with some obstacles in the environment (dependent on the course) and special weapons to spice things up. In the dungeon level I was stunned in place momentarily by one of the many skeletons that jumped into the play field throwing bones at random. In the forest level, I was cutting tall grass with my sword, where I found a bow and arrow and boots. The bow and arrow can be used to stun your opponent from across the level, and the boots can be used to dash around quickly. I did not find these special items offered a large advantage in any match because you have to find both a moment to leave your goal vulnerable in order to pick them up, and a moment to use them when the sphere is, yet again, moving into your side of the court.
This new Nintendo Switch version in particular offers many game modes, including four new ones. First, there is “Campaign” (single-player game) which you may consider this game’s story mode (although there is not much of a story here). Next, there is “Regular Match” which can be played with up to four players, but can also be played single-player with a computer opponent. New modes include “Target Mode” where two players “cooperate to hit targets” in the play field, rather than try to score a goal; “Boss Mode” where two players can take on a third player who controls an extra-strong boss character; “Squash Mode” where two players can play squash-style matches (mentioned previously); and the new “Hand2Hand” mode, where two players use opposite sides of a single Nintendo Switch system to control the action on the screen between them. I think this mode could be particularly fun as a party game to pass around between guests because it may be the first time that many players experience playing a game together on a single device. I played it with my brother, and I think it was very fun to hold on to one system together. It was almost like playing together on an arcade cabinet, only more unique. There’s also a “Sphere Fountain” in-game shop where you can spend coins earned through play in a sort of wishing well for randomized rewards like different spheres or character colors to be used in the game.
The graphics and sound in the game may appeal to fans of classic games, but I think it’s fair to say that they are not above average. A lot of the choices of environments look like they are straight out of A Link to the Past (mentioned previously). The iconic, round trees stand out as the greatest example of this, but it’s also apparent in the dungeon where there are Zelda-inspired blocks that (you guessed it) can be lowered by hitting a switch. There are some things that by themselves would be small, but together, don’t help the game look as good as it could. For example, the Lin character is a girl, but I only discovered this from reading the text in the game, because it wasn’t obvious to me from the artwork. When choosing another character, the descriptive text appears and then disappears quickly to reappear on the next line because the full word wouldn’t fit on the line previous as it’s spelled out quickly one letter at a time. The Zelda-inspired tree sprite keeps reappearing in the background of different menus as a repeating tile and it’s just not the most attractive thing. When the character artworks appear on-screen before each match as well, some of the illustrations don’t fully appear, but instead appear partially from opposite sides of the screen. Some are so far off to the side, that it’s hard to ignore. I would say that the music itself is good, and the sound effects work, but I think that the HD rumble may play an equal part where striking the sphere is involved, probably just as much as the sound. The sound itself, however, I think is better than the graphics.
I was a little disappointed with this game. My expectation was that this game would offer something great because it’s taking a fun gameplay mechanic from A Link to the Past and iterating on it to create a full game with multiple modes of play. Unfortunately many times the game feels like luck, not skill, is the biggest factor in winning or losing. I just feel that this game doesn’t develop the sphere play mechanic itself. Instead, it offers many extras on top of a small experience that never grows into something special. I will probably still play “Hand2Hand” mode with my friends when there’s a chance. Overall, this game is worth considering for players who like tennis, air hockey, or pinball-inspired games, but everyone else can probably pass on it.
SpiritSphere DX was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.
Adam “McSNES” Martinez, gaming drop-out and FuncoLand ghost, has spent his entire life training to review games for YOU, the loyal readers of Nintendo Times. Adam is permanently banned from Final Fantasy XI: Online, his favorite game.