Spirit of the North starts you off as a fox on a journey to the unknown. You wander through the cold snow, find a skeletal figure in a seated position, and wonder why it is there. Proceeding further, you find a staff and have the ability to pick it up in your mouth. You return to the skeletal figure, the staff lights up, and you have now been taught how to put souls to rest. This is important as this is also how you unlock more skins for your fox down the road.
Eventually you will traverse deep into the Icelandic tundra and become accompanied by a spirit. They become a semi-beacon and direction guide for you to follow; albeit a very little use of a guide. There is no vocal story or even one with text. You are given odd imagery that is used to tell the story, and honestly it was very hard to follow. From what I could understand, there were two fox lovers who protected and were worshipped by the people of the land. Something happened and you are now involved. I cannot go into detail without spoiling the game, but look at the images carefully as you pass through them, it may make sense. In any case, you come face-to-face with a terrible disease/beast/evil that kills you. The spirit fox that you are with brings you back, but costs her physical presence and becomes a glowing ball. You will eventually learn to harness her power and get small upgrades such as leaving your physical form temporarily and getting a spirit dash.
There are eight chapters to traverse, each with their own unique design. Some of them will be pretty linear and easy to navigate, a few were long and tedious and almost lost my interest to the point of putting the game away. The game is about exploration of the maps to find staves and skeletons, but you feel punished with janky collision on some walls, or some areas falsely giving you the idea that you can make it to the other side. I even had an issue where I felt I could get to a certain location, gave up after a while because I kept falling off a ledge, only to come across the "other side" by literally walking around a few buildings anyway. Then there are issues of puzzle breaks that can cause progression issues and if you do not understand what is wrong, you may feel the need to give up. I found that restarting the checkpoint often fixes these, but I lost a little bit of progression due to the restart and that is unacceptable to a player.
By the time you get closer to the end of the game, you will find that you have to be exact in some of your movements as some puzzles are "spirit dashing" puzzles and if you are off by even a half of a second, you have to run back to the beginning or wait for the timer to reset you. Not a big deal, in fact it made the game more interesting as I had to think about what I was going to do by looking at how the timer boosts lit up.
The game will take roughly 4 hours to complete if you wander around aimlessly for a good hour of that. You will get lost, especially during the last two chapters. I was so "done" with the spirit realm that I almost put the controller down and did something else. There is a huge map, multiple levels, with nearly zero guidance on where to go. There are large fox statues you can activate, sometimes they felt like they were leading me the correct way, other times, I just got turned around.
There are a number of things the game does not explain and are only found out by accident. One of the biggest things that took me a while was that I found you could turn on a rune with my spirit power, and then take it off by using it again. I never tried this because ruins are used to lift objects or open doors. The doors will reset if you take the ruin off, but some will stay open. There is little reason for you to explore like this and I started testing this toward the end of the game as there were no Spirit Flowers to recharge my energy with.
The game has found its very unique home in a collection of games that share the experience. I have reviewed each of them, some are better than others. If you enjoy any of the these games, this one is a no brainer and should be in your collection as well. Overall, the game gets a "Fox of Approval" from me!
Links of the other 3 titles in this genre that I have reviewed:
Mooneye's Lost Ember
The game allows Mouse/Keyboard and Controller setups. Problem is with some of the locomotion and problematic collision with a four-legged character.
Stylized. It lacks a full environment, except the last Chapter.
Very nice music tracks and ambient sound.
There are spirits to "save" that will unlock more fox skins. Unless you are a completionist, you may not return.
PROS / CONS
- Different skins to unlock.
- Very relaxing gameplay.
- Buggy. (Many visual errors, you can break puzzles if not done in order, etc.)
- Lack of direction at times