Imagine if you would, a quiet serenity. Just a stretch of scenic beauty before your eyes, the gentle ebb and flow of nature nipping at your senses. Leaving the burdening stresses of modern life behind, to take in a silent moment of peace, to simply exist. To free yourself of expectations, of worries, of responsibilities. To just be one with yourself and the environment around you. This is the serene peace you will experience whilst playing through Spirit of the North.
You will take the reigns of a fox traversing the land in an immersive and atmospheric environmental puzzler through a mystical interpretation of Ireland. Its peaceful ambience, stylised visuals and idyllic orchestral immersion will keep you from putting the controller down.
The game takes you out of the modern gaming tropes and gives you a whimsical story to sink into. So many games take away your sense of exploration by over encumbering you with reasons to actually explore. Playing most modern games, you start to get a sixth sense of where treasure chests are hidden, where collectables have been stashed, where extra ammo/money/resources may be concealed. The only collectable in Spirit of the North gives you eventual access to different skins, just a plain and simple process, and they are easy to come across.
Games often find ways to make collectables optionally necessary by giving you more information about the lore, such as in Horizon Zero Dawn or Nier: Automata. They can provide comical relief from a heavily plot-driven game, such as shooting the little squeaky toy frogs in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater or spotting all the adult magazines in Mafia II. They can also give you motivational purposes to collect them, from giving you side content such as the Riddler trophies in the Batman Arkham games or letting you spend your precursor orbs to unlock cosmetic cheats in the Jak and Daxter games.
It was truly enjoyable to play a game that makes no attempt to bog you down in checking every single corner, peeping in every nook and cranny just to find something, anything. This was elevated by the absent feeling of regret. If I miss something, then I do not know, and it gives me no hindrance either way.
Show, Don't Tell…
Another trope in today’s gaming landscape is the unnecessary need to have every bit of dialogue paired with a voice-over. There are obvious exceptions to this with many games following the “silent protagonist” approach but for the most part, even games that do not need any form of dialogue has it. Heck, even My Name is Mayo has dialogue in it, and all you do in that game is tap X until you pop a platinum trophy.
Again, Spirit of the North does not allow itself to be pigeon-holed by modern expectations. There is no dialogue in the game, no written documents to read, no conversations to follow and no narration of any kind. You interact with the spirits of the world. You do so with your actions, and they in turn do the same. I was never left with a longing for dialogue options or the need to talk to NPCs. The game lets you save your voice and take in some deep breaths of fresh air after being choked by the smog of so many games taking influence from each other.
If Looks Could Kill…
The detail in Spirit of the North is truly mesmerising. It is possibly one of the most stunning looking (and sounding) indie game I have ever played. From the awe-inspiring environments depicting different biomes in beautiful visual prowess, to the furry texture of the little protagonist as wind ripples through its fiery locks. There was not a single part of this game where I thought attention to detail had been overlooked. I love the little details like the fox spreading its legs out as they slide down the ice or shaking the water off as it gets out from a little swim. These are the little details that really help you become immersed in the game.
The PS5 version of this game is the enhanced version. This comes with improved lighting, graphical fidelity, textures, and a smoother frame rate over the original. I can imagine fans of the original will welcome these changes. Nobody can ever truly complain when something that looks incredible is made even more incredible.
The gameplay is as classic as the orchestral notes its soundtrack takes inspiration from. It is a straight-up platforming, linear adventure with environmental puzzles. The gameplay and storytelling are like an estranged love child of Rime and Journey. And it works incredibly efficiently. Unlocking a few different abilities during the game keeps the progression nicely paced.
Exploration is not true exploration if you know what you are going to find, or if the game is shoehorning you in a way to make you explore. Spirit of the North is a welcomed relief as it does not tell you what to do, ever. It simply lets you be. It allows you to follow the path laid out before you without worrying about whether you have missed anything. This is something I was not aware I needed before playing this game.
You will explore a whole host of different environments and solve increasingly difficult puzzles using the abilities that you acquire along with your story. Solving puzzles by jumping in and out of spirit form can be a lot of fun, although if you are not a fan of puzzles, these can become a little too burdening towards the end. This is because the game slowly shifts from a beautifully relaxing, linear progressing and area explorative game, to one that begins to rely more and more on puzzles to engage with. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I can imagine it is not for everyone.
I absolutely adore the fact that there are no hints, no hand-holding, no UI, nothing to read, no map etc. The game is pure. It is what it is. And I wish more games would follow this premise.
What Does the Fox Say?
Unless you somehow managed to miss me praising the visuals in this game throughout this review, then first and foremost, I would like to suggest you visit an optician. This game is stunning. And that is where most of its appeal will come from. There are not many platformers that are released these days, unfortunately, not on consoles. Spirit of the North is honestly a welcome edition in my game collection as far too many of them are 100+ hour games that ask far too much of me.
My main niggles with the game are minor. The lack of DualSense functionality is a little disappointing. It would have been the perfect game to showcase some of the capabilities of the controller, which would have no doubt garnered it even more appeal. Whenever I would continue my journey from the title screen, it would not load up the chapter I was actually on. And finally, also just a small thing, the game goes out of its way to immerse you, which is amazing, but it still feels like it needs to tell you to press X to jump in chapter 3. That just did not make much sense to me. Again, just small niggles, these are far, far, far from game-breaking.
Spirit of the North is a delicate little title with a lot to show for itself. You can probably finish the game in a single evening if you were so inclined. Spirit of the North is only 5-6 hours long. I would have liked it to be a little longer, but that is just me wishing I had more time exploring more beautiful settings with my furry little buddy. It is the perfect game to play between diving in and out of the slew of AAA titles we are drowning in these days. It would be a great little game for young ones I imagine too. The perfect respite game for those into heavier games. Or of course, ideal for anyone who is swayed by the thought of playing as an adorable little fox.