Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition Review – An Atmospheric Reprieve

    Title: Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition
    Developer: Infuse Studio
    Release Date: November 26, 2020
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Merge Games
    Genre: Adventure

Sometimes taking things slow and steady in a calm, soothing environment is the exact kind of experience a gamer needs after going on epic monster-slaying quests fraught with peril and fright. Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition embodies the former. While it can certainly come off as unappealing to certain crowds, it ultimately accomplishes its goal of being a calming and captivating third-person adventure.

During Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition, players take control of an ordinary fox whose life quickly entangles itself with the Guardian of the Northern Lights, a magical fox spirit. In regards to the title’s overall narrative, Spirit of the North purposefully lacks dialogue and narration of any kind. While this can certainly come off as jarring and needlessly contrived for understanding the story, this design choice enhances the unique, mystical ambiance this title provides. And in fact, I’d argue that despite the efforts to make learning about the story a fulfilling experience, this title truly shines the strongest with its atmosphere.

The world of Spirit of the North is breathtakingly beautiful, with the region inspired by Iceland depicted gorgeously. The endless sheets of angelically white snow to the dark and almost ominous cavernous-like areas make the games’ visuals play a crucial role in engaging players within the nature-like majesty that awaits them. This is clearly not a game developed with a large budget, nor does it take full advantage of the hardware it lands itself upon, but it’s clear that the developers had a vision they stuck to.

This can be felt from how the story is wordlessly delivered first and foremost, along with its stylistic visual design. Another noteworthy aspect of this title is the incredible orchestral score. The soundtrack enhances the title’s exploratory nature due to how it perfectly captures the ambiance of adventuring in a wintry land where nature is all that surrounds you.

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From a gameplay standpoint, Spirit of the North is straightforward with virtually no complexity within any of its layers. While there are somewhat misleading puzzles occasionally adorning the landscapes, the game is straightforward mechanically and what you see is what you get.

There are various puzzles where shaman staves will be lying around randomly, and players will have to place them near the corpses of shamans. Doing so unlocks skins for the fox, and said skins are rather stylish, admittedly. I did have some issues finding the staves at points later on but truthfully speaking; I blame my own incompetence for that one.

Spirit of the North does not try its hardest to lead you astray or confuse you. There isn’t any UI, nor any map to guide players, but due to the linearity of progression, the lack of an included UI felt like the proper design choice. That, coupled alongside the lack of dialogue and narration, makes players focus solely on the world in front of them.

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Ultimately, however, I can’t deny that I felt I was repeatedly going through the same song and dance. Changes in visual scenery can only do so much to alleviate the tedium. The continuous puzzles that consisted of finding staves and enlightening monuments with the Guardian of the Northern Lights powers were satisfying. Still, they failed to deliver enough variety to keep me engaged.

Occasionally, there is a slight change to how you reach new areas, but those moments are incredibly brief and do little to alter the foundation as a whole. The one real blemish this title has is the lack of gameplay variety. Even though the scenery and atmosphere are what this title uses to keep you invested, that investment only felt surface level at several points. Looking at the wondrous landscapes and appreciating the stylistic design choices was always enjoyable, but the further I progressed, the duller the affair of completing repetitive puzzles became.

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The fox’s movements are extremely smooth and agile. It can dash and perform a rather sizable jump, so the act of navigation can never be blamed on the controls, which are vital for a puzzle adventure title of this nature.

Performance-wise, Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition felt perfect on the PlayStation 5. No noticeable frame rate drops nor graphical oddities were encountered in my time playing. For a title of this nature, consistency in visual quality and scenery was vital. There isn’t any dialogue or other notable aspects to fall back on aside from the music, so this title certainly excels at what it was driven to do.

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Spirit of the North: Enhanced Edition is a unique, mystical adventure that will scratch the right itches for players who desire an artistic reprieve from the norm of tried and true action games. While the puzzles can become somewhat taxing and repetitious, the wordless story and enchanting world are more than enough reasons for open-minded players to jump in and see what this game is all about.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.