Spellspire might not be an entirely new concept, with Letter Quest releasing last year, but can SpellSpire keep up with the reigning word-puzzle king.
LetterQuest was a bit of a sleeper hit, most wouldn’t expect much enjoyment from a game where you battle monsters by piecing together words Scrabble style, but sure enough the RPG element and all-round accessibility of Letter quest picked up enough of a following for it to be considered a pretty successful game.
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking SpellSpire was some kind of sequel, however while both games share the scrabble style word challenges and a very familiar art direction, I’m not aware of any links between SpellSpire creator 10Tons and Digerati Distribution or Bacon Bandit games of LetterQuest. But you share a similar quest of taking down monsters by attacks which are automatically generated when you create words using a random selection of letters.
Smaller words such as Tin or Hat might not do much damage, but if you bust out some longer words you’ll soon be taking down the enemies ahead. Thankfully the early levels are pretty simple with little more than 3 or 4 letter words required, but when you get to level 20 and beyond you’ll need to piece together something more impressive. Saying that level 20 was the marker where SpellSpire really turned round, it started off as a game that a child could easily do, but even after replaying the first 19 levels to gain stars and coins to unlock and purchase more powerful weapons and clothing It still took a few attempts to defeat the boss.
While there’s 100 levels of the tower to climb, each feels very familiar. your character plods from left to right, automatically attacking enemies as you create words, each enemy will drop a few coins for your troubles, and once you’ve finished a level once, you can re-enter the same scene to get a star and a few extra coins, these stars work to unlock certain items, but the main reason for retreading your steps is to get enough coins to power up what items you already have, constantly powering-up your items, then unlocking new ones which need to be powered right up to be effective mean there’s a lot of doing the same thing over and over, the letters change, sometimes a few enemies might even change, and if your really lucky, you’ll get a new hat after half a dozen levels, but it all feels far too similar and within an hour that feeling of familiarity really starts to detract from the fun.
Sadly the peak of bosses means you’re forced to play levels you’ve past to build up more coins and while people don’t mind grinding in some titles, grinding back through levels which are already too familiar to every other one you’ve already done, means it’s far more of a chore than it should be.
It’s still great fun trying to come up with the best long words as quickly as you can, and there’s a sense of achievement when you do pass the boss levels, but I really wish there was something more to it.
Graphically it’s a fairly simple, the hand drawn characters with bold outlines might look like they’ve been pulled from the ‘bad guys of gaming’ book, but they do stand out well, while there’s not enough variety in the backgrounds most of your attention will be on the characters themselves and the bottom right hand corner where your available letters are shown for you to construct your next attack.
There’s a small selection of items to collect, but with 18 weapons and 12 of each hats and tops, there’s not enough content to give a true RPG feeling, nor raise the desire to collect more, opening these new items is more necessity rather than for their cosmetic appeal and as you unlock something more powerful and move on, there’s no real pride in appearance and the effects such as burning or freezing enemies do help, but feel pointless when that wand is nowhere near powerful enough to continue.
It’s a nice touch having to power-up weapons to make yourself more powerful, but it really comes down to the random mixture of letters you get, as you’ll sometimes be struggling to forge anything more than 5 letters, while others have 6, 7 or 8 letter words easily visible.
The random nature of the letters does mean that all hurdles can be passed eventually, especially if you take the time to build up extra coins and power up those weapons, hats and clothes.
Throughout the game you’ll have discreet background music, which helps with the fantasy setting and keeps everything fairly light hearted, there’s no voice acting which is a real shame, because while there’s some funny one-liners pop up, I think giving the characters voices would have helped inject a little more personality into them.
There’s still a wide selection of pops, bangs and groans, but sound and even the graphics all seem background once you’re concentrating on the little block of letters down in the corner.
I can’t help but feel just a little disappointed with SpellSpire, after the success of Letter Quest, it just doesn’t seem to offer anything new. The pick-up and play nature of short levels does help to prevent long repetitive sessions, but whereas Letter Quest left me recommending the game to those who wouldn’t usually consider such a genre, SpellSpire is maybe better suggested for those who like a good word puzzle.