If you’re stuck inside at the moment, some of the best games to play right now are those with large and captivating environments that you can really dive into at your own pace. If this is your itch then Spirit of the North may be the scratch.
The product of Infuse Studio – an asset developer from the US, and the notorious Epic Games “MegaGrant” program, Spirit of the North is a third person puzzler that puts you in control of an adorable red fox exploring a long forgotten Icelandic civilization. While on your happy jog through some less than forgiving tundra, your life is saved by the Guardian of the Northern Lights, a bright & shiny spirit fox who essentially fuses with you and grants you supernatural powers – something any good dog absolutely deserves.
The puzzles throughout the game are fairly simple. You are taken from one area of the world to the next and are usually charged with clearing some sort of obstruction to continue. A combination of exploration and platforming (and some supernatural assistance from your newfound ghost fox friend) usually get the job done. As you make your way through the illustrious environments you’re clued in to what happened to these lost people thousands of years ago. Along the way, as a sort of side hustle for the fox, there are a collection of shaman spirits you can set free by finding and returning each their respective staffs. It never gets quite as challenging as some players may want it, but it’s clear from the beginning that the bare bones controls and mechanics are there in complement of the bare bones presentation overall. Difficult puzzles and fast paced action just wouldn’t fit the vibe Spirit of the North is going for.
There is minimal text and zero voice acting to guide the player, with the exception of a dedicated ‘bark button’ to finally answer the age-old question of “what does the fox say?” What does guide you is first; the near perfect accompanying piano score – accenting the events of the game with some incredibly poignant emotional context – and secondly; the sheer majesty of the environments themselves. The overall tone is quiet and you feel incredibly small traversing these landscapes. They’re designed in such a way that’ll generally give you an easy push in the right direction, while still offering enough breathing room for you to explore and slowly take in each individual detail of the campaign.
Unfortunately the devil is in the details, and there are some things to overlook if you want the best possible experience with this title. While originally releasing on the PlayStation 4 last November, the graphics do take a hit in the port to the Nintendo Switch. Some textures look blocky and out of place, and while being able to sprint and leap at fast speeds, as a fox is exhilarating, your four-legged self can get pretty wonky to control during the tighter platforming sections. Overall I’d say these mechanics run up to par with similar indie titles, but these hiccups do noticeably reoccur throughout the entire game.
One final gripe with the campaign is actually a content warning. While the game does carry an E rating, there’s a rather somber sequence early on in the title where you’re hurt and you play an entire chapter as a slowly limping fox that eventually collapses and freezes to death. This is the point in the story where you are saved by the Guardian, but everything about this sequence is bleak and unsettling – accompanied by realistic whimpering noises and a swelling piano grating against the uncomfortably slow pace of the entire chapter. While it is undoubtedly a beautiful and emotional setup for the story to come, it’s something that could really strike a nerve with those triggered by animal suffering, which is a very common anxiety to have.
While it carries these shortcomings, there’s no denying that this is an incredible feat of saying so much with so little. The minimalist storytelling and presentation really are its strongest qualities, taking you through a society’s entire rise & fall in this incredibly compelling dive into Icelandic folklore. It absolutely feels like Spirit of the North was a passion project for Infuse Studios with so much love and careful thought on display in every corner of the game.
Spirit of the North Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 9/109/10
- Gameplay - 8/108/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Despite the indie background, Spirit of the North feels like a master class in atmosphere and just how much you can do with it. Even with some noticeably rough edges, the world we get a glimpse into is beautiful, bold, and begging to be explored.