November 10, 2012 11:00 PM | Staff
[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each game in The Harvest Bundle currently running on IndieGames' co-created site Indie Royale.]
One thing that indie games have always been particularly good at is taking older game conventions to remix and reinvent into something fresh and new. It's no secret that Spaces of Play borrows the main gameplay gimmick of Spirits from Lemmings, but that indie spark does a lot to twist it into a unique creation. The game still revolves around shepherding helpless, adorable creatures and sacrificing them for the greater good, but a splendid audiovisual style and neat wind based mechanics provides a new, entertaining experience.
The abstracted narrative of Spirits gets off to a great start by showcasing a fascinating cycle of life and death. When leaves fall to the ground, they generate tiny spirits that must reach a portal to be recycled back into the tree. By sacrificing these spirits to exploit their elemental capabilities, you can dig through rocks, grow ramps, generate jet-streams and cut off the wind to allow the rest to reach their goal. Particularly fascinating is the airflow, which is generated in a lovely natural way that curves and meshes with the environment and competing gusts. The spirits are like tiny leaves themselves, so the slightest gust can carry them up and over the various obstacles.
Like so many indie games inspired by the past, Spirits uses modern physics, like the aforementioned wind, to greatly improve and revamp the experience. It's a smart move, which allows for a much wider variety of solutions to each puzzle. Generally, each level in Spirits is freeform enough to be solved through a ton of different methods; even if there is a one true perfect solution, there's enough leeway to puzzle out your own method in the rather challenging levels. The other wonderful modern addition is the painterly art style that permeates the game. With the absolutely gorgeous visuals and a relaxing soundtrack (included in the Indie Royale as a bonus), Spirits looks and sounds really sharp. Spaces of Play may have turned to retro gameplay as an inspiration, but the visual design skews much more towards a very modern and artistic style.
In the end, Spirits is a good indication of how some indie games can take an old experience and make it not only new again, but beautiful as well. Its a genuine, enjoyable little game with terrific open ended design. By obscuring the "right" or "perfect" solution, Spirits is a game that you can really approach from any direction. It's a challenge, but in a strictly conceptual sense; the game works just as well when you're clearing a level or two on quick breaks as it does when you devote an hour or two to nailing the minimalist solutions. It really is an overlooked gem, so be sure not to skip it.
[Mutant Mudds, Spirits, Avernum: The Great Trials Trilogy, Pineapple Smash Crew, and BasketBelle are available now in the Harvest Bundle at Indie Royale.]