Release Date: November 9, 2017
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (eShop), PC (Steam), Playstation 4 (Playstation Store), Xbox One (Microsoft Store)
Price: $9.99 USD
Spellspire is another release out of 10tons that looks to provide something unique to the Nintendo Switch library. This is described as an RPG Word Game, whatever that means. Well, it’s quite simple really. You spell words using letters provided in a 10 letter grid. Once a word is spelled, it is blasted out from your wizards wand as spells at all sorts of ghoulish fiends. The longer the word, the bigger the blast.
In Spellspire, your goal is to climb floors in a tower and defeat the monsters and bosses along the way. There are precisely 100 floors, so there’s much ground to cover from the start. Enemies come in all sorts of varieties, and their patterns change from floor to floor, some being stronger than others. You gain gold coins for every stage you complete, and can occasionally get items such as potions, or books that provide a free five letter word to use for example.
Each floor plays out as you take on a set line of enemies in sequential order. You face off against the first enemy while frantically trying to come up with as many words as you can until they are defeated. There is a timer signified by a wheel that indicates when the enemy will attack you. Once you’ve depleted your foes HP, you’ll move onto the next until all enemies in the line are defeated.
What is nice with Spellspire is it supports full touch screen support. You can use the conventional console controls to play, however it can be tedious to use the dpad or analog stick to cycle through letters and press A to spell them out. It’s much easier to simply touch all the letters and then tap the sword on the right to attack. The touch screen feels very accurate and super snappy. Using the touch screen allows you to get out many words in a very short amount of time. It’s quite fun being able to constantly spell three letter words along with their plurals to let loose an onslaught against some of the bosses.
There also is a nice plethora of words to find in Spellsire. As stated by the developer, there are roughly 100,000 words to be found within the game. I don’t know if this covers the amount of words available in the English language, but it’s regardless a very high number, and makes finding words easy at times even if you are the most well versed at these types of games. At times though, I found myself to be stumped and hard pressed to come up with simple words. It certainly helps when you get letters like S or E and D to spell out plural versions of words or even use their suffixes. It can double or even triple the possible words you can use, but is dependent on a bit of luck to get these letters of course, which can make the game feel a bit random at times.
As mentioned earlier, the bigger the word, the more damage you’ll deal, or in some cases, do a double attack. These can be quite handy, as some combos will allow for you to defeat the monster with the first attack, and the second will land on the enemy right after. In addition to this, monsters are weaker to different types of attacks, so using the right weapon could make things a bit easier depending on the level. Combine all this with the enemy attack timer and that you cannot repeat words, Spellspire will easily keep you on your toes.
Outside of the battle, there is a loot system in place. Using the gold coins you earn, you can spend them in the shop to upgrade gear or buy new gear. Each piece of gear lends a certain perk to your character, such as having three letter words do double damage, or having enemies take more time before they attack you. Gear also may have elemental types, so some will freeze your enemies timer, while others poison them and gradually reduce their HP. So far there isn’t any gear that will turn the tide, besides increasing your damage output of your wand, or upgrading that altogether.
There are some items in the shop that are unlocked by waiting for a timer to deplete, or in some cases, require a certain amount of stars. Stars are earned from playing a stage again by completing a certain objective, such as taking no damage. It’s structure very much resembles something like a typical mobile game, but without micro transactions, at least for the console versions of the game.
Visually, Spellspire has a nice, clearn charming look. It’s entirely a 2D game and the sprites used are pretty high quality as they are very sharp and crisp. The game is also very vibrant and implores a very cartoony look. It’s nothing to write home about, but for what it is, it does it’s job very well. Monster designs and variations are also quite abundant. The further you progress, you’ll get to see some new designs throughout the levels. Backgrounds change every 10 floors it appears, and add a small amount of variety to the mix.
From an audio perspective however, Spellspire has decent music. It resembles orchestrated music, and fits the vibes of being heroic or medieval. You won’t be humming any of the tunes, but it fits the bill very well. They sound surprisingly high quality which is nice to hear while playing. Sounds effects are all pretty standard, from monster grunts to the sounds of your spells landing their hits.
Although Spellspire is a pretty simple, casual affair, it isn’t perfect. Early on, I find the difficulty of the game to be quite high. Unless you are a vault of long words, you’ll be hard pressed to take out enemies. I found myself constantly getting stuck on every 10th stage, which is where boss fights take place. Bosses seem to take you out in one hit, and you are basically coming up with as many words as you can before this happens. Although it makes the boss fights seem frantic and intense, as you’re racing to defeat them, it made the game needlessly frustrating and repetitive. I had to constantly retry boss fights and do a lot of grinding on previous stages to get more gold and buy better gear. This is a very time consuming process, if you’re not able to pick out the longest words on each stage.
Despite getting new gear and upgrading my HP and attack power, these seemed to help very little with the bosses I was stuck at. They provide marginal increases, and even after doing a couple of upgrades, I made very minimal progress in how much of the bosses health I was able to deplete. In the end, your surest way of taking out the big bad bosses is really to brush up on the English language I suppose. So unless you are an absolute word nut, expect to run into the problem very early.
One thing that I think makes Spellspire needlessly hard to casual word-goers out there is the inability to re-collect words you’ve already used. The requirement to not only constantly come up with many long words in a short amount of time comes of as a bit unfair. I found myself constantly spelling out words I already used early in a fight to only find I couldn’t use them. It’s very tough to keep track of all of this with everything that’s going on. I wish the game used the space on the left side of the screen to give a list of words already used. This would not only prevent you from wasting time in spelling out something you’ve already used, but possibly also spark your mind to come up with other unused words. I think this would have really alleviated the difficulty with the boss fights and made the game much more accessible to everyone. Without it, the game is a bit too hard at times.
There is much to accomplish in Spellspire in the way of stages and gear to get, even if it’s a bit repetitive. However, the time and effort required to get past the many hurdles you’ll hit puts me off from continuing to play this game. Unless you have the uncanny ability to pull out long words from the mess of letters, you’ll most likely have a tough time with Spellspire, and make very slow progress. It’s a shame, because the concept of combining a word game and RPG is pretty unique, and at it’s core, when you get on a roll, it can be fun.
Spellspire is a well thought out, unique concept for a video game. It takes two genres that appeal to both a casual and hardcore fan base and meshes them together pretty well, but is unfortunately marred by an extreme difficulty curve. Not only this, the requirements to progress are extremely time consuming and grind heavy, that you are forced to play old stages over and over again. It’s clearly obvious a design suited for a mobile market for micro transactions. At it’s core, it can be a fun game, especially when you are able to upgrade your gear and increase your damage output and several other stats. Letting out flurries of quick three letter words using the touch screen controls feels great as well. However, there comes a point in the game where upgrades do feel marginal, and the game can end up feeling too random, and rather unfair at times. Given it’s price point, it’s too high for a game of this type, and I’d advise most people to avoid this purchase, unless you are an extreme word nut who would thrive at such an experience. Otherwise, it’s likely you’ll get stuck at things like boss fight repeatedly and be forced to grind. Spellspire feels like it would be more at home on the mobile phone platforms rather than it’s console counterparts, and for that, I’d recommend people check out the free versions on Android and iTunes instead, before considering dropping money on the Switch version. Out of all the console versions, I’d only recommend the Switch version due to it’s full touch screen support.
Disclaimer: This review was done using a Nintendo Switch copy of Spellspire provided by the games publisher/developer, 10tons. Please be assured that this did not affect my opinion of the game, and that my criticisms are an honest and true representation of my thoughts on the game.