Agahnim Fight: Sports Edition!
I’ve never really been into sports (as if that’s actually surprising). Basketball, football, tennis… sure they’re all great, and I respect the athletes that play them, but unless they feature Mario and co. I probably won’t be going anywhere near it, and it’s a stretch even then. On the other hand, I’ve always thought that video games have come up with some pretty awesome fictional sports. I mean, sure, I’ve never actually played Blitzball, nor have I ever partaken in Warp Star racing, but you can bet that I’d be well on my way to becoming a jock if stuff like that existed. Today we’re going to take a look at yet another fictional sport in the game SpiritSphere (which is also the name of said fictional sport). Though many of you may not have heard of SpiritSphere, it’s very likely that you’ve already played it – or at least the game(s) that it’s based on.
Before I go any further, I’d like to take a second to talk about something. Are you familiar with Dead Man’s Volley? No? That’s okay; that name isn’t really used that often. Let’s try this instead… do you remember those battles in various Legend of Zelda games where you and a boss (usually a major one) took turns hitting a ball of light back and forth until one of you messed up and got hit by it? Yes? Good! That’s Dead Man’s Volley – and it’s also one of SpiritSphere’s two main influences.
So Dead Man’s Volley is SpiritSphere‘s first main influence, but what’s SpiritSphere‘s second main influence? Why it’s air hockey, of course! Geez, what else could it be? Rather than flinging a ball of magical energy at one another in a battle to the death, SpiritSphere has players attempting to score points by hitting a sphere past their opponent and into their goal. SpiritSphere‘s controls are very simple and easy to pick up, with players being able to use regular attacks and power attacks on the sphere, roll, and even use items. Combining a specific LoZ boss trope together with air hockey might sound like a weird thing to do, and it probably is, but it actually worked pretty well. SpiritSphere managed to take two core concepts and turn it into something pretty unique,and fun overall. It’s also very easy to get into. I’m going to sound like a broken record at this point, but if you’ve ever played a Game Boy LoZ game then you know exactly how to play this. That isn’t a bad thing, though! SpiritSphere did a good job with emulating classic LoZ controls and did a good job making them accessible to players, regardless of skill level.
SpliritSphere‘s primarily functions as a couch multiplayer title (a genre that I always personally found a bit odd with PC games), and is meant to be played with others in your near vicinity. The game’s multiplayer allows for two players to go head-to-head in a standard SpritSphere match, or participate in a unique SpiritSphere take on Squash (which turned out to be a pretty good fit). A “doubles” version of SpiritSphere can also be played, allowing four players to play at once. Things tend to get a little hectic with more than two people on the field – especially if you and your team mate aren’t in sync – but it’s a fun way to kill an hour or two. All multiplayer matches are fully customizable as well, meaning that spheres, courses, and even the number of points needed for a win are entirely in the player’s hands. The ability to freely customize matches is nice, and helps keep things fresh for a little while longer. For those who don’t necessarily have time to meet up with their friends in person (or, you know, those without friends), you’re not entirely out of luck – there is a single-player mode available. Unfortunately, it suffers from… well, I guess I’d just call it “excessive randomness”.
Before talking about my single-player experience, allow me to first talk about the game’s unlockables – I know that it’s a weird segue, but just bear with me. SpiritSphere is a neat little game, and features a decent, and number of things to unlock. As you play through the game, you’ll eventually and inevitably end up unlocking new spheres, characters, and levels. Spheres are obtained from a what is essentially gachapon machine in the guise of a Fairy Fountain. By throwing 100 coins (currency earned from the single-player mode), you’ll randomly unlock a sphere. Despite the randomness, it really doesn’t take that long to unlock all of them – you’ll have more than enough money to ensure that you get everything after a few full rounds of the single-player mode. Each sphere also has a unique effect, such as shooting fireballs when hit or moving more quickly than usual, that ensures that no two spheres work in the same way (and that they are all fun in their own right). That’s kind of where I stopped enjoying the unlockables though.
Okay, okay, SpiritSphere is a retro throwback type of game, and I get that it tries to mimic some of the things that older games did, but the amount of ambiguity concerning unlocking the characters and stages is a bit ridiculous and that is because you are literally given no information whatsoever. After a bit of searching on the Steam forums I did find a post from the developer stating that you needed to play both single-player and multiplayer (which doesn’t sound quite fair) in order to unlock everything, but that was it. There was no actual in-game information concerning these unlockables. I came pretty close to unlocking everything but it seemed that, despite everything that I tried, some of the unlockables would never be mine. It was really a disappointment overall because I genuinely enjoyed the stages and characters – they were all highly-unique from one another, and added new life to the game – but the fact that I literally had no idea how to unlock them left me feeling rather annoyed.
Okay, so back to SpiritSphere‘s single-player mode. The single-player mode is set up like a campaign, and requires that you play through 10 matches (with the first to 3 points winning the match) consecutively, with each match being consisting of randomly-chosen combinations of spheres, opponents, and courses. For the most part, this is a good thing; it ensures that you will never get the same experience twice, but it does end up being a bit of a double-edged sword sometimes. While most of the combinations work out just fine, there are certain times where things get a bit too gimmicky. I’ll find myself playing through the first seven rounds without any trouble and bam – all of a sudden I’m having an extraordinarily difficult time winning stage eight.
On the surface this initially just looked like it was my fault, that maybe I wasn’t good enough. After running into the problem several times, however, it became apparent that SpiritSphere suffers from a bit of a balancing issue. Pairings such as having Ozo (who can almost always perfectly teleport in front of the oncoming sphere when CPU-controlled) for an opponent, with the Fast Sphere in play, in a gimmicky level such as the Dungeon were a bit much. I understand that certain parts of the game will naturally be more challenging than others, but heavy spikes in difficulty for a single level, and subsequent drops afterward, left me feeling disconnected and frustrated at times. Fortunately, these problems didn’t occur too often, and when they didn’t, single-player was an enjoyable (though admittedly short) experience. I’m aware that this game’s true intention is to be played among friends, but I still think that it’s important to not leave solo players out.
If you’re a fan of the graphics in games such as The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, then you’re going to to like SpiritSphere‘s graphics – and hey, what’s not to love? SpiritSphere is the kind of game that heavily caters to one’s nostalgia, and throwing in what I would label as “highly-polished Game Boy graphics” just adds to the charm. I was also impressed by the detail that each of the game’s arenas boasted, as well as the fact that they each seemed to represent a specific playable character.
Equally as charming was SpiritSphere‘s soundtrack. If you love chiptunes (I know that I do!), then you’re going to like the music that SpiritSphere is serving up. There aren’t a whole lot of tracks but they’re all legitimately good – and that’s what matters the most, if you ask me.
SpiritSphere is a neat little experience overall that does a good job of paying homage to the classic Legend of Zelda titles. While it may not be terribly long, and it does suffer from a few problems here and there, you can’t deny its obvious charm. If you’re a fan of LoZ-inspired games, or maybe even someone who just likes quirky fictional sports, you’re probably going to get some enjoyment out of this one.
FINAL VERDICT: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Eendhoorn Games ; Developer: Eendhorn Games ; Players: 1-4 ; Released: January 24, 2017 ; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of SpiritSphere given to HeyPoorPlayer by the game’s developer.