Spirit of the North review for PS4

Platform: PS4
Publisher: Infuse Studio
Developer: Infuse Studio
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

I feel like Spirit of the North could have been a great game in the right hands. It?s got a heartfelt story, striking visuals, and some decent puzzle-platforming — all essential building blocks for a fantastic experience.

Now, I?m not going to say Infuse Studio weren?t the right hands for their game — after all, they put all those good pieces in place. I will say, however, that it feels like they could have used a very good editor (or whatever the gaming equivalent of that would be).

The biggest problem with Spirit of the North is that there?s far more of it than it needs to be. Take the story, for example: it?s a wordless tale about a fox wandering through the frozen wilderness to find its lost love (or so I gathered). While that?s certainly enough to go on, it?s also not enough to sustain the game for nearly four hours. That?s hardly a lengthy experience, but it still feels like the game?s length could have been cut by an hour or more, and nothing would have been lost.

Or take the visuals. Again, they?re certainly not bad: the game does an excellent job of creating a mostly barren wasteland, with only sparse grass and some trees populating the world above the treeline (save for a chapter near the end that takes place in a massive forest, which may or may not be some kind of afterlife). But also again, it feels like there?s far more of it than there needs to be for such a simple story. Spirit of the North is a pretty linear game, so building such a vast wilderness to explore seems kind of like overkill, particularly since there are places where it?s very easy to wander for awhile without realizing you?re on the completely wrong track.

The biggest reason the game feels overlong, though, is probably the puzzles. They?re not very difficult, but they are very repetitive, and it constantly feels like you?re doing the same things over and over again just to pad the relatively short length.

Of course, there are also some parts of Spirit of the North that don?t feel like they could have been redeemed even with a solid editor. Jumping, for example, is terrible. It doesn?t feel like the fox has any weight to it, which makes precise jumps difficult, and every so often you?re forced to maneuver through cramped spaces, which the game isn?t designed to let you do.

Worse, though, there?s the fact that the game abruptly changes its internal logic about two-thirds of the way through. See, there are collectibles to gather in the form of staffs, which you have to reunite with their dead owners, who you?ll find frozen in out-of-the-way places. For the first chunk of Spirit of the North, these collectibles are entirely optional; you can find them if you want, but, as far as I could tell, they in no way impact the story or the gameplay. This changes abruptly right at the end of Chapter 5, which you can only progress if you?ve grabbed one specific staff, and brought it to one specific corpse. There?s no indication up to that point that you need to be concerning yourself with such things, and for the game to change things so abruptly — thereby forcing you to backtrack for a solid 10-15 minutes — feels like it doesn?t understand the need for consistency. This is compounded by the fact that the game doesn?t remain consistent for its final few chapters: sometimes you need to find the staffs, others you don?t, and you never can tell when the staff you find will be necessary or when you?ll be wandering around with it in your fox?s mouth for no reason whatsoever.

Even in that case, though, it?s hard not to think that a good editor could have pointed that out. It?s the kind of problem that plagues Spirit of the North from beginning to end, and it?s why the game is ultimately more frustrating than anything else: with a little more thought it could have been great. Instead, it just seems infused with unrealized potential.

Infuse Studio provided us with a Spirit of the North PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: C