Dec 03

Spellspire Review

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Spellspire is a concise role playing game that is seen as educational due to using word creation as its gameplay mechanic. It is best compared to the words used in the game, that are intentional, usually short, and played a few at a time. Its origin is that of a mobile game, so coming to Switch seems full circle. Where it shines is when its roots are evident, and where it lacks is when it is perceived as something it is not. Spellspire is a solid addition to the Switch library for those that find word games to be entertaining. Though it doesn’t have much depth, what your wizard sets out to do on each floor of the spire is fun in chunks of time and for that reason Spellspire is an easy choice for those that want a game on their hybrid console to jump into for a bit at a time while still providing a bit to think about.

You are a wizard with an objective to get to the top of the spire, and you start out at the bottom of 100 floors. You fight your way through monsters on each floor with magic, and that magic is conjured up by forming words. Pick letters from a selection of ten to make these letters, and cast your spell. The longer the word, the more powerful the spell. Of course, variables change this in ways such as different wands, spell books that affect damage output, and the strengths and weaknesses of monsters changing the spells’ effect.

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Wands, armor, hats, and much more are available in the shop. Conveniently a hot air balloon that floats alongside the journeying wizard, the shop provides upgrades to existing items and soon enough new items for purchase. I mentioned earlier that the game is considered a role playing game, and I suppose it technically is. You do have a say in how you progress your character’s loadout, as items become available and your options become deeper. Do you look into ways to improve your offense by spending coin on a poison wand, upgrading your freeze wand, or improve your attack strength? Or do you look into ways to improve your defense by getting yourself a new hat with its abilities, improving your defense strength, or saving your coin for that armor that will be unlocked once you get one more star? With spell books also becoming available as you ascend, your choices become tougher as to how you want to stand a better chance.

Where the game hints that it started as a mobile game is a timed treasure chest. Every so many hours it is available to open for more coin. This seems odd out of context, but it still fits once you get into the rhythm of playing Spellspire. See, I tried to sit down for a long play session. But the game just doesn’t feel like it is meant to be played this way. I found that I enjoyed playing the game once or twice a day for brief sessions. Also of note is the grinding required to advance. No level of vocabulary will allow one to proceed unscathed in Spellspire. Your set of letter tiles is limited, and a timer means that the enemy will attack unless you take him out first. Thing is, your wizard’s chosen loadout will determine how effective he is against the enemy, and how likely he is to resist attacks. You need coin to improve your wizard, and you need to ascend in order to obtain coin. So for that, you will need to revisit some of those lower floors.

Thankfully, grinding does not feel like a chore when done in smaller play sessions. Each floor only lasts a few minutes, and you quickly become focuses on casting words in order to to complete it. You descend only to find out that you are stronger than before, and maybe you have a wand better suited for those monsters. Obtain a bonus for accomplishing objectives, and those stars along with the earned coin will allow you to improve your wizard. This is rhythm of the game, and something that you must do especially when you receive a beating from a boss. These bosses will become a part of the monster lineup as you continue to ascend, but that first time you encounter them you soon realize that you need to put in some time to improve your wizard. As you continue to encounter and vanquish new monsters, they are added to your monsterpedia. This tome is of more worth than it initially appears, being that it is more than a simple roster of unlocked enemies. You will want to refer to this when ascending to a new floor, especially when that floor gives you trouble. Enemies have different weaknesses that you can take advantage of with your assortment of wands.

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The effects your wizard has at his disposal can slightly change the way you play each battle. Choosing words is a rapid effort, so you might want to use something that delays the first monster’s attack. That said, you won’t find yourself challenged as much as you might think. The game encourages you to use the plural form of words by providing a way to recall the last word you used to cast a spell. Do you see the words to spell the word RAT, and see that you have a valuable S in your tile set? Well, cast it, then call it back to add that S and cast RATS. Now, cast SAT, STAR, ART, and call ART back to cast ARTS.

Here is where playing a mobile game that has been ported to consoles and later to Switch – itself a console mobile hybrid – means it has come full circle. Playing the game in handheld mode is ideal. You can tap away like you are texting on a phone. I actually prefer to play with my Switch in tabletop mode, and my joycons in their grip as I use the buttons to act quickly. This means if I do need to tap a potion or scroll, items held on the unseen pack your wizard carries with him, they are at my disposal. So the control options provided by the Switch are appreciated when playing Spellspire.

I have fun discovering new monsters and seeing how the different gear looks on my wizard. The game has a cute and friendly appearance that my kids liked watching. The visuals are accompanied well by the music, that sounds like a lighthearted fantasy journey would sound. For being a game that you will play a bit at a time over and over, hearing the tunes were not bothersome in the slightest. The list of letters seem random at first but over time make me think they are carefully prepared, with word options available in each. If for some reason you find yourself having trouble with a set that involves the dreaded “Qu” tile, you can hit pause and restart. Of course, this diminishes the challenge, but the option is there if the alternative is hearing the groan of your downed wizard. If it were up to me, I would penalize the player for restarting, but getting taken out by a cartoon zombie with a unicorn horn tied to his head is humiliating enough.

As far as replay is concerned, you will have fun progressing through the floors and encountering new monsters. Grinding might not be appealing to some, but doing so to obtain the gold or stars needed to upgrade your gear makes it worth it. You are rewarded with an additional mode once completing the tower, but you would need to enjoy the grind of becoming a more powerful wizard to advance in order to appreciate the game.

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What Spellspire sets out to do is done well, though there are a couple things I’d like to see done better that would only improve upon the experience. In the beginning of the game, players are treated to seeing the entirety of the spire. After that, however, their view is limited to what they have scaled. I’d like this governor to be removed so I can use the hot air balloon just to see how far up I have to go. Something else that would just enhance the experience would be providing definitions. The game moves too fast to be bothered with reading definitions of words that are created, but two words are shown at the end that would be a good place for including definitions. Yes, I’m that guy that would like to learn some after finishing a battle of spelling. The longest word used and the longest unfound word, shown at the end of each battle, could be accompanied by their definitions. These two things don’t detract from the gameplay or experience, but if the developer were to update the game I would like these two things considered.

CONCLUSION

Spellspire is a fun game that knows what it is, which is enjoyed in smaller sessions. While it might not provide enough variety in content for some, those that want a game that is easy to pick up and offers reward for doing more than button mashing will enjoy their experience with Spellspire.

The Zarf logo review score better

Four out of Five
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch on 03DEC17
Review copy provided by 10 Tons LTD