Frozen tundras and isolations don’t often make for a good feeling of home, but Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition makes players feel at home. Following a simple fox’s trek through an icy landscape to discover the secrets of the Northern Lights, Spirit of the North on the PlayStation 5 is an exploration/puzzle game developed by Infuse Studio and published by Merge Games.
Spirit of the North doesn’t hold anyone’s hand. Players are dropped on a snowy mountain in control of a fox. The entire experience offers no explanation of what’s happening, similar to thatgamecompany’s Journey. Instead, Spirit of the North relies on environmental storytelling to move the game along. Players soon find out that the world has been corrupted and they’re helping the spirit of the north cleanse the corruption and bring back the northern lights. It’s that simple. Personally, I like this formula. It’s straight to the point and Spirit of the North doesn’t try to be something it’s not.
But once players boot up the game, the first thing they’re going to notice are the improved graphics. Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition boasts 4K graphics with buttery smooth 60fps, and it delivers. The environments the fox trudges through are gorgeous, but the visuals are equally met with the soundtrack. The soundtrack is fantastic. While no song remained caught in my head, each track perfectly encapsulated what was going on within the game and the emotion the player felt.
The second thing players are going to notice is how the game controls. For the most part, the fox feels great to control. Moving, running, and jumping are fine, but Spirit of the North does have some issues. Movement can feel sluggish and unresponsive. I often found myself trying to spin the fox around to face the right way to make a jump, but the fox wouldn’t respond as fast as I thought it should have with my controls. Easily, the biggest hindrance with the controls is the jumping. The fox jumps like he’s a 30-pound bag of potatoes. Each jump is inconsistent and it’s not possible to confidentially zip through platform sections.
But the powers the fox unlocks as he progresses make some of these issues disappear. At a certain point in the story, the fox is imbued with the powers of the guardian of the Northern Lights, which allows for some fun things to do. Such as summoning an ethereal version of the fox to help solve some puzzles, or unlocking spirit run to quickly dash through timed gates. The powers use a material called spirit bloom, which can be gathered by yapping at blue flowers. Once power has been channeled, the fox will glow, letting players know it’s time to party.
Unfortunately, as great as the visuals and sound design are, the levels themselves feel barren and directionless. Most levels are pretty decently designed to pull players through the narrative, but it’s only possible to see the same environments or solve the same puzzles over and over before it becomes tiresome.
When the fox is running through fields, exploring caverns, or swimming, Spirit of the North is at its strongest, but as soon as platforming appears, it becomes a struggle to wrestle with the controls. Some of the more frustrating sections — I’m looking at you chapters 5 and 7 — have less to do with not knowing what to do to progress, but deal more with getting the fox to act accordingly. I lost count of how many times I begged the fox just to make the jump.
Throughout the frustrations, the simple story of Spirit of the North is extremely rewarding. Once I pieced the story together, I felt at home. Spirit of the North evokes the same comfort as watching a Disney/Pixar movie. You know there’s going to be ups and downs, the journey may be happy and sad, but in the end the trials are worth it. The story isn’t anything spectacular. It’s lacking, but the heart put into the experience is such a welcomed thing. Spirit of the North felt personal and special.
I enjoyed my time with Spirit of the North. But the issues with the controls and short play time — I finished my playthrough at roughly 3 hours — makes it a difficult title to recommend for the casual player. Fans of the environmental exploration/puzzle indie games will find this to be an instant classic. Regardless, Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition is a wonderful experience, especially on the PS5. It shows off the capabilities and potential of the console
Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition was provided to the reviewer by the publisher for review purposes. Images captured in-game on the PS5