Spirit of the North, created by Infuse Studio and published by Merge Games, is a thought-provoking, albeit short, adventure told solely through subtle landscapes and mystical puzzles; at its heart Spirit of the North is a lonely trek across a barren land in search of meaning.
Players take the reins of an ordinary fox chosen by the guardian of the northern lights, a female spirit fox, to aid in a solemn quest. With no dialogue or text, the story is instead told through the scenery; snowy abysses, abandoned castles, deep caverns, and lush hillsides all tell the story of a once populated world, long since abandoned.
Throughout your travels you will not encounter any other living beings, although you will encounter the numerous remains of Shamans long ago deceased and aid in bringing closure to their lives. These 28 hidden Shamans serve as the only deviation from your otherwise narrow-minded trek toward the source of the Northern Lights.
In place of dialogue is a subdued and haunting score, a perfect backdrop to the gorgeous scenery strewn throughout the fox’s adventure and a constant reminder of the beauty inherent even when hope seems lost and the world is crumbling.
At its core Spirit of the North is a walking simulator akin to Journey or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. There are no enemies. There is no way for the player to die. There is only a weathered landscape full of puzzles. The puzzles, while never hard, do help to break up the walking and keep things fresh for the game’s relatively short run time.
There is no map, no way points, no arrows, and no signs to help guide you – only subtle cues lead the way. The environment is the only guide you need, although in particularly convoluted areas you are helped by a guiding spirit who subtly nudges you in the right direction while never quite spelling out the solution of how to get there. While at first your instincts may be thrown off by the lack of direction, eventually you learn to take the game in stride and how to react to the World surrounding you in a natural way. It is a testament to the game’s design that you never feel lost or overwhelmed despite the large landscapes.
Spirit of the North is divided into 8 chapters, each of which introduces a new area and normally a new gameplay mechanic. The fox begins the game with no supernatural powers and no abilities to speak of – only able to wag his tail and to bark. As you progress you gain abilities akin to the spirit fox, allowing you to separate your soul from your body to reach new areas, unleash a howl to eradicate dangers, dash long distances, and more, each skill becoming absolutely necessary to progress through the increasingly complicated chapters.
Aside from puzzles, there is a good bit of platforming – which unfortunately is one of the game’s weaker aspects. Some areas are rather hard to clear due to timing issues and distance issues, further hurt by occasionally clunky controls. For most of the game the controls do not hamper enjoyment, but issues quickly become apparent in some late-game platforming obstacles. While the issues were never dire enough to ruin my enjoyment, I did spend more time than I’d like in a few areas trying to get the timing of a jump correct.
At only four hours long, Spirit of the North never overstays its welcome. The varied landscape and constantly changing puzzles ensure gameplay remains fresh throughout, while the thought-provoking scenery and the anticipation of what’s to come will keep players enthralled. Those looking for a subdued yet beautifully orchestrated experience should look no further than Spirit of the North.
Spirit of the North is out on May 7th on the Nintendo Switch and PC for $24.99. Spirit of the North is also available on PS4. Thank you to Merge Games and Infuse Studio for provided Fan Fest News with a review code of Spirit of the North.
Richard Allen is a freelance writer and contributing editor for various publications. When he’s not writing about video games on FanFest.com you can find him on Broadway World or in Graffiti Magazine. He can be contacted via email at [email protected] or [email protected]. You can visit his website at facebook.com/richardallenwrites