Spirit of the North comes from North Carolina-based Infuse Studio, being a third-person adventure game where you play as a fox. The developers tout the experience as being “inspired by the breath-taking and mysterious landscapes of Iceland.” The game draws from its regional vistas and folklore, with light narrative elements that pushed me through to the credits. Unfortunately, due to poor optimization on Nintendo Switch and frustrating segments in the gameplay, reaching this journey’s conclusion proved more difficult than it needed to be.
What does the fox say?
Spirit of the North presents its narrative and Nordic inspiration in a straightforward manner, though the spirit of an Arctic fox supports your red fox character. Arctic foxes are present in many Scandinavian folktales, most commonly those attributed to the Northern Lights. In the game, the spirit grants abilities such as being able to quickly dash, spirit bark to break the tethers of a plague, or grant you temporary control of the Arctic fox. Most of these are then used to solve puzzles or better traverse through the various settings such as icy caverns, grassy fields, and lush forests. Along the way, flowers called Spirit Blooms can be barked at to obtain little energy boosts.
The red fox animations, especially the ones that play when idling, and details present in the character model are impressive. While it may be difficult to notice in the Switch port’s lower resolution, it also has dynamic fur animation. Unfortunately, small decisions such as having the fox bark exactly like a dog — something that red foxes don’t do — break the otherwise enchanting effort towards immersion. Something like this could’ve easily been avoided with a quick Google search.
Beyond that, Spirit of the North frustratingly begins to fall apart with poorly implemented gameplay. There is no combat, and the aforementioned puzzles rarely come across as clever or unique and instead feel like busywork. One particular section involved me simply having to carry a staff to the skeleton of a shaman, but the open areas felt so cluttered that it was a challenge just to know where I needed to go. With this task, as with many others in Spirit of the North, all the pieces were frustratingly not laid out in an easily digestible way. (In this case, I was required to find a Spirit Bloom to refill my spirit abilities so I could dash across a space.) I felt so lost that I had to look up the solution online in order to continue progress.
Spirit of the North falls short with the platforming elements as well. The controls don’t feel precise due to their floatiness, and at points there was a noticeable delay due to how slow the game was running on the Switch. As a result, it rarely felt as if I had proper control over the red fox.
Spirit of the North is marred by a lackluster Switch port
That leads us to what is probably the worst aspect of Spirit of the North, the way that the game is severely debilitated by the Switch hardware. I mostly played the game on my Nintendo Switch Lite, while spending the last fourth docked on a regular Nintendo Switch. The result was miserable in both instances, with muddy textures keeping me from being able to appreciate the “beautiful” moments the game was continuously trying to impress me with. This, combined with the subpar technical performance of the port hindering gameplay, makes Nintendo Switch the worst way to play Spirit of the North.
That isn’t to say that the experience was entirely regretful; the greatest part of Spirit of the North is its excellent score. Sweeping orchestral pieces and calm piano pieces are present, and they work well when juxtaposed with the ambient sounds of the Icelandic setting. Unfortunately, these songs are not deliberately placed to play during specific points. As a result, despite the emotions that each song pulls from the listener, there is little sentimental weight in the greater context of the game.
An overall unfocused experience
I really wanted to enjoy Spirit of the North as someone who is passionate for Nordic folklore, meditative video game experiences, and foxes. Unfortunately, amid the game’s performance issues and lackluster gameplay, the title comes across as unfocused at best and unplayable at worst. There’s a meditative, thoughtful, and even great game that’s underneath all of the uncomplimentary design decisions, and the poor technical performance of the Switch port is the nail in the coffin of an already flawed experience.
A review code was provided by the publisher.