Inside Pulse 12

Review: Spellspire (Sony PlayStation 4/Vita)

Spellspire
Publisher: 10tons
Developer: 10tons
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 05/23/2017

Even though the idea of a spelling-based RPG seems like you could only get so much mileage out of it, there’s actually a few different games out there. A couple of years ago, Letter Quest Remastered did a good job of it, and the original Bookworm Adventures is well loved by those who played it back in the day. Despite this, Spellspire actually does some things differently. It’s basically like playing a game of Boggle, but with stats and statuses attached. It’s an amusing setup, but is it one that makes it worth the ten dollar price tag?

There’s not even an attempt at a story here. You play a mage. There’s a tower full of monsters. You ascend the tower floor by floor, killing monsters and acquiring treasure as you go. That’s about it. There’s only the mode as well. The game doesn’t even use a menu. You just play through it. After you reach the top of the tower, you can run through a endless dungeon in order to complete quests and continue to earn rewards. It’s a bare bones setup, but simple games like this don’t really need a lot of frills. You won’t be clamoring for a deep character study here, after all.

Visually, the game lacks any punch. It’s a bit cute with the enemy designs. You’ll face a zombie in a party hat, or a slime monster with a hipster mustache. Beyond that though, the effects are minimal and the animations are practically none. It’s a basic looking game. The colors pop a bit more on the PS4 version, but it’s still nothing special to look at. The good news is that the various items you equip change your appearance, so at least things get somewhat mixed up.

In terms of audio, the game uses some rather typical fantasy music. It’s heavy on the strings and ends up being hardly noticeable as you play. It’s decent enough when you do stop to listen to it though. As far as effects, you basically have a small handful of noises for inputting letters, casting spells, and hitting enemies. Nothing is bad here, but it’s all merely functional. You won’t feel the need to play with the sound on.

Each of the one-hundred floors of the tower must be cleared one at a time. Your character starts on the left side of the screen and automatically walks towards the right. When an enemy is in range, you can start slinging spells. When you get too close, a timer counts down until that enemy will attack. The timer will change based on the enemy in question. Some enemies hit really hard on rare occasion, while others do small amounts of damage in quick succession. However, if you can kill them before the timer runs out, they’ll never land so much as a single attack on you.

How do you sling spells? Each level gives you ten letters from which to spell as many words as you can. The words must be at least three letters in length, and you’ll do more damage if you can spell out a longer on. On the PS4, you do this by moving the cursor around on tapping the cross button to select letters. On the Vita, you simply tap the letters you want. It’s pretty simple.

In between battles, you can purchase new gear from the stores. You can equip different wands, robes, and hats. Each subsequent item is objectively better than the one before it, but they often come with various abilities. Wands get damage types, which clothes give you passive bonuses such as bonus damage for three-letter words or something. The different damage types are a huge aspect of the game. You have poison, fire, ice, and drain. Poison and fire do extra damage over time, ice freezes an enemy’s timer for a bit, and drain restores some of your health with each hit. Enemies have weaknesses or resistances for these various attributes. This means you sometimes have to plan ahead and use an weaker wand in order to use a helpful damage type.

The game is designed as such that you will occasionally hit a road block. The level will simply be too tough. You’ll start dying in one shot or simply have your attacks do negligible damage. What you’re supposed to do is go back and replay previous levels in order to earn stars. You do this by getting through the level with maximum health. Enemies attack a bit faster in order to make this a bit more difficult. Earning these stars is necessary, as many items in the store only unlock when you’ve earned enough of them. So the answer to the road block is typically buy the next wand upgrade that you only get from earning stars. It ends up feeling a bit cheap though, as you hit these roadblocks constantly. It can feel like you aren’t making progress at all.

If you’re playing this game on the Vita, be prepared to play for only short periods of time. Since most of the game is tapping letters as quickly as possible, and the letters are cramped on the bottom right of the screen, this means your wrist is going to be getting a serious workout. I experienced hand cramps and wrist pain if I played for more than half an hour at a time. It’s worth looking out for.

It’s also worth mentioning that this is a port of an ios game. The differences are many. On mobile devices, the game is free to play. That means you get ads. That also means you have lives that recharge over time. Because of that, the PlayStation version is better. But it’s also ten bucks. You do get two versions of the game for that price, however, and two full sets of trophies. It’s worth looking into for that reason alone.

Short Attention Span Summary

Spellspire is a simple game that plays out its spelling mechanic to death. Despite that, the fast paced spelling and frantic search for new words can keep you invested enough to keep playing to the end. It’s a suitable game for those that like this type of mechanic. Just don’t expect it to be particularly memorable and/or praise worthy.

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