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June 2021

Spirit of the North

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Merge Games
Developer: Infuse Studio
Release Date: Nov. 26, 2020


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PS5 Review - 'Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Dec. 17, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition is a single-player 3rd-person exploration/puzzle adventure game inspired by the breath-taking and mysterious landscapes of Iceland.

Buy Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition

One of my favorite games of the PS3 era was Journey. It wasn't complex, but its gameplay grafted with beautiful visuals to enhance their depth and meaning. Since then, a lot of games have followed similar molds, and they usually lead to interesting experiences. Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition is one of the more modest successors. It is a pretty title based around exploration and simple puzzle-solving, and its primary gameplay feature is guiding an adorable fox through snowy lands.

Admittedly, that is a very strong selling point.

The concept of Spirit of the North is that you're a fox from Iceland who becomes entwined with the titular Spirit of the North, who appears as a ghostly female fox. The land is dotted with corruption that turns the sky red and rots the land, and the two of you need to work together to solve that problem. Spirit of the North avoids both narration and dialogue to mostly let the visuals do the talking, which helps with the atmosphere but also means the story isn't particularly complex. This is absolutely a game you play for the exploration, not the backstory.

The biggest selling point for Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition is the updated visuals. The game looks better and runs smoother than the last-generation releases, including smooth 60fps and support for higher resolutions. By and large, it is a pretty game with lovely environments to wander around. There are some hints to its limitations as an indie title, including some distracting poor textures, but they're easily overlooked for the stronger whole. The music is also quite nice and does a good job of setting the tone of the story without being overbearing.

The core gameplay involves you running and hopping around while you follow a spiritual fox through a variety of environments. There is some simple platforming, but nothing is too punishing. It's more of a game where you enjoy the sights and animations as you play through the adventure. Your overall goal is to defeat the corruption spreading through the land by solving a variety of puzzles.

You might be an ordinary fox, but as the game progresses, you get some spiritual powers to solve puzzles. The short length of the game means that this works in its favor, as you get new gimmicks and more complex puzzles at a pretty steady pace. If anything, it feels like it could have fit in a few more gimmicks and puzzles. There are optional staves you can collect and return to their owners, but they're for flavor (and trophies) more than anything else. You can probably finish the whole game, including the optional stuff, in a lazy afternoon.

The puzzles are firmly in the brainteaser category. They start off simple and grow more complex, but rarely do they present a roadblock. Spirit of the North is not a game that's interested in challenging you so much as keeping you engaged. It feels like this works in its favor because the controls and the camera are a little too finicky for anything too complex. The developers clearly worked within the limitations of their engine, and for the most part, that is exactly what they needed to do.

The visuals and pacing polish don't quite extend to the entire experience. I encountered a number of bugs during my playthrough, including objects not spawning that prevented the game from advancing, some serious camera issues, and a checkpoint system that is either broken or very poorly designed. It felt like if I quit the game anywhere except at the beginning of a chapter, I might need to redo entire segments. Thankfully, the game has a chapter selection screen, so it's easy to retry.

Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition is a beautiful remaster of an average game. If you enjoy wandering around pretty environments and solving some light puzzles, then this is a fantastic "chill out" game, but anything beyond that is somewhat forgettable. Add on some frustrating bugs and the lack of meaningful improvements over the last-gen version beyond visuals, and it isn't a must-buy for anyone who has played the original title. It's worth experiencing if you haven't played it before, but you should perhaps wait for a price drop, since the $35 price tag isn't worth it when you can purchase a last-gen copy for $20.

Score: 7.0/10

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