Word games are one of those specific joys that highly appeal to some people and completely turn off others. The English language is a complex and horrifying thing, and I mean that in the best way possible. You could live to be ninety years old and still run into some know-it-all from a different part of the world who drops a word that you’ve never heard before in your life, but it’s just part of their everyday vernacular. So, for folk who like whipping out dictionaries and challenging friends over drunken Scrabble, I’m super pleased to announce that Spellspire really scratches that itch in the best way.
Spellspire is another joint from 10tons, in which you play a wizard who’s journeying to the top of a one hundred floor tower, with monsters, ghouls and dark magic infesting each and every room. Unfortunately, you’re still little more than an adept and need to hone your skills ASAP if you want to live. Thankfully, you have the ability to cast spells of varying degrees and power, and it’s all dependent on your trusty wand, your stylish robes and hat, and your prowess at pulling words from a collection of ten randomly selected letters. That’s right, welcome to Fantasy Boggle.
Right off the bat, Spellspire favors and gives a lot of empowerment to anyone who’s familiar with more obscure words. The level begins with a handful of monsters (starting with one or two and then up to just LEAGUES by the end) and you having to quickly decide what words you’ll make. However, bigger words will deal multiple hits, and so you need to identify and order which vocabulary you want to use. Looking ahead at the wave of monsters will give you some idea if you can get away with just “gale” for now and save “Belugas” for the big dude at the end. The monsters have a timer before they hit you, so fast fingers and quick thinking will also win out every single time.
One thing I thought was interesting is the score and critique that Spellspire gives you at the end of each floor. Besides telling you how much gold you received and how long it took, you also know your best word, how many words you used, how many you MISSED and the biggest possible word that you didn’t use. It really surprised me to find out that there were literally HUNDREDS of words that I didn’t end up using against the three skeletons and the undead unicorn, and that words like aluminates would even be relevant in my life again after the SATs. It was a fun experience, to be sure, and also something that I tucked away for later use should the same letter combination come up again.
Thankfully, Spellspire also isn’t totally reliant on you being a word juggernaut in order to win. No matter how quickly you conjure up words, bigger and bigger enemies appear, meaning you need to rely on the adventure/RPG aspect of the game as well. Between stages, being able to level up your equipment is essential to survival, and I just wish I could have come across new staves and robes a little more quickly. Still, once I got a good combination of a fire wand and some ice robes to really deal elemental chaos to people, I started to feel a bit more confident even if my word searching was a bit rusty. I also liked finding random drops within the levels, with things like healing potions and attack scrolls appearing after certain enemies dropped. In fact, for those of us who don’t constantly keep a dictionary on hand (filthy casuals), the attack scrolls are essential in later stages to keep things a bit more controller.
Speaking of which, the later stages (basically from 40 upwards) will be what truly tests the patience of the casual wordsmith and those dedicated to flushing out their craft in Spellspire. Sure, by that point you’ve got a nice variety of hats, robes, wands and probably at least a few maxed out pieces, but the onslaught of enemies becomes downright tiring. You quickly switch from offense leveling (dumping all your gold into the wands) to defense (hypercharging your robes) because having enough HP to survive two more words is the difference between success and failure. The first twenty or so levels flew by in a gleeful avalanche of letters, but I really started to slow down and needed to take breaks once I reached this point.
Still, the longevity of the game is something that’ll also be appealing to players. After you beat a floor once, you’ll be able to go back to basically test yourself on the same floor with stronger enemies and conditionals (don’t take any damage, for example). These repeat levels might seem wasteful, but they’re the best way in Spellspire to get gold fast, and sometimes adding just a little extra edge to your gear is all you need to not eat dirt and die right before the treasure chest.
Spellspire is going to attract a very specific crowd for the Nintendo Switch. Such a seemingly casual game fits in best in the mobile crowd and also with PC users, but there is a genuine depth to the strategy as well as the inherent thinking value. I love the fact that 10tons made a point to incorporate touch and button control, so that the serious linguist can deep dive into words at the speed of touch. I had never played this before, and I think that my smartphone would be too cramped in terms of real estate to really pull off a lot of fast pecking and word discovery. This is one of those games that you play for hours, days, uninstall, and then remember in a year and give it another run because you had fun and, hey, it’s not like it’ll be exactly the same. If you are as enthralled by the concept of full-contact word searches as I am, then Spellspire is the perfect little magic spell to whisk away your free time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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