10ton’s latest release is unlike their previous works, such as Tennis in the Face, and much more inline with the likes of Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey. Spellspire has you taking on the role of a wizard who has been tasking with traversing a tower. Each floor is guarded by a collection of monsters that you must take on one at a time. Just like the aforementioned comparison, you harm your foes by spelling a collection of words. The bigger the word, the more damage you will dish out. The catch however is that you’re unable to use the same word twice on each floor. This makes room for some tactical and strategic play, as you’ll always want to hold off on lengthy damaging words for the bulkier enemies ahead.
As you beat your opponents, you’ll pick up money (and stars per-floor) which can be used to purchase new gear as well as equipment that will ultimately boost your stats, namely your attack and your defence power. You can utilise a small band of traits using these upgrades, such as freezing, burning, and poison effects. They do prove to be somewhat useful and most certainly helpful in the later stages of play, but the enemies do tend to come with lenient difficulty curves, so chances are that you’ll stay on par with them throughout. In fact much of the difficulty consists of what letters you are dealt, which can easily be swapped out with a simple restart thanks to the random assignments within. The added ability to use spells to heal yourself or spell lengthier words is present, which again shaves another layer of the challenge off.
Gameplay consists of making your way through 100 floors, and battling a boss at every tenth floor reached. The main problem with Spellspire is that it feel overly repetitive, and when you take into account that it comes with a staggering amount of floors to work through, as well as the option to play them twice, it does get boring long before the endgame. It doesn’t help that almost every floor feels the same, and despite some minor changes to the theme, they all look the same too. The reason why Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey is more consistent and rewarding, is because the difficulty was set just right and the balance of progression and reward helped to keep the game on track.
Spellspire on the other hand just has that annoying grind-like gameplay that sees you returning to older floors when you get stuck, earning stars and boosting your stats, and then coming back to the proverbial brick wall and smashing it down. Enemies do come in a decent collection of shapes and sizes, all of which have their own health bars and damage capabilities, but it hardly takes a wordsmith to shovel out enough attack power to take them down. Words can be formed from a total of ten letters, with a word of three letters being the smallest you can use, and a ten letter word being the maximum.
Enemies also come with their own weaknesses, resistances, and timed attack patterns. You could come across a monster that has a weakness to burn, but a resistance to poison, which naturally prompts you to take advantage of the downside. One thing I particularly enjoyed about Spellspire is how well it forces you to act quickly. Some foes are far more unforgiving than others, being that they can attack every few seconds, or attack every 20 seconds. You’ll always be privy to these collective stats prior to each battle, but it is indeed truly rewarding when you’re up against an opponent that has bulky defence, a hefty health bar, and attacks you in rapid succession. Sadly however, the previously mentioned repetitive nature of play doesn’t bolster that short lived upside.
With that being said the constant juggle of defending yourself from a good band of mechanics, as well as using them to your advantage, is enough to at least see you halfway through the game before you get tired of the formula. If however you thoroughly enjoyed Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey and have been craving something similar since, this may appeal to you far more than it did for me. The added replay value of repeating each floor with a one-shot attempt is tough enough to justify return runs, and I’ll admit that these challenge stars that you can earn from doing so is a harsh task in itself. Again, this leads us to another unforgivable flaw with the game.
Now, I’m hardly the most intelligent of people. What I know however is that I can spell words that this game fails to acknowledge. That’s right, Spellspire will not recognise words that you full-well know exist. The developers should have put more input into the word pool before releasing the game. There’s nothing worse than playing a challenge round, only to be hit and killed AFTER using an existing word that the game chooses not to accept. It’s not just frustrating, but totally unfair. Don’t get me wrong this hardly happens frequently, but it happened to me enough times to make a note of it, and certainly occurred when I least needed it to.
Spellspire does come with a clean interface and some straight forward controls. It shouldn’t be too hard at all for beginners to pick this up and get stuck in, and the colourful diverse cartoony visuals are welcoming for gamers of all ages. The vast amount of content in the game is easily worth the asking price, and even with my concerns in mind, it’s hardly going to break the bank if you find yourself in the same stance. The soundtrack is hardly standout, but it’s catchy and sits well with the theme. I only wish that the game had more modes on offer or something to deviate from the core aspects of play.
Spellspire could have gone one further than Letter Quest by building on the foundations of play and offering more side content rather than a lengthy campaign. Having just that one route to chase does become stale before long, but thanks to the decent mechanics and diverse selection of enemies and power-ups, there’s just enough here to see you through at least halfway before boredom makes itself apparent. The fact that words are missing from the word-pool is a huge annoyance, especially when playing the tougher sections of the game. Mercifully the game looks great and comes with simplistic controls and functionalities, leaving it wide open for gamers of all ages to enjoy.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.