Word-based puzzle games are still a relatively rare thing on consoles. Of course, you have few here and there, with Letter Quest being the most recent example that comes to mind. On mobile devices, however, they are in abundance, and that is exactly where Spellspire started life. It is always good to see the better mobile games live outside of the confines of the mobile market and make its way to consoles and PC. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Spellspire is one such example in its current state. It’s not a bad game by any means, it is just restricted because the developers, 10tons, haven’t adapted it fully for console, which is a shame because the core game is actually really good.
You take the role of a nameless wizard and your task is to climb a tower comprising of one-hundred floors and defeat the monsters on each of those floors by spelling out words with ten randomly selected letters. Once you finish a level you are able to upgrade your character and buy new gear, this is where some really cool RPG elements start coming into it. You are able to buy new wands, robes and hats which can be upgraded in order to deal more damage or to protect you better. Most pieces of gear have some form of perks too. An early example would be a wand that allows for fire damage, or a hat that freezes any enemy that hits you. It’s a fun little system to play around with and see what works on different floors. For those that solely want a word puzzle game though, the RPG elements might be too much of a distraction.
The core gameplay is as simple as it sounds, however, and if you’re into that kind of thing then it’s also as fun as it sounds too. With the ten letters you are given, you cannot use two-lettered words, nor can you use the same word twice in the same level (obviously). The longer the word, the more damage you will cause to the opposing enemy. Again, as simple as it sounds.
That is one of my complaints about the game though. It is often too simple. I rarely found myself running out of words to use because it is so easy to just abuse all the three lettered words and defeat most enemies on that particular stage with them alone. This is especially true if you have the letter “s” at your disposal as you can then turn a huge amount of words into a plural, which makes some stages laughably easy. You are also able to bring up your last word with a press of the B button too, which can make using plurals even quicker.
The biggest issue Spellspire suffers from, however, as I alluded to at the start of the review, is because its roots lie within the mobile sector, the developers expected people to either buy in-game purchases to get through the game quicker, or grind a lot. In-game purchases don’t appear here (thankfully), so you need to do a hell of a lot of grinding because later levels are impossible without doing so and there is absolutely no way around it.
If you read back you may think I have contradicted myself a little. How can a game be both too simple and easy but also impossible at the same time? The answer is simply that you get to a point in the game it then becomes impossible to pass because your character cannot possibly be strong enough and even if you were the best wordsmith out there, you still wouldn’t get through. In the opening stages of the game, this point is level ten. So you’re basically required to go all the way back to level one and work your way up again. The problem is that level one is now easier than it was when you first started playing. So you then grind enough to increase your characters stats, go back to level 10 and all of a sudden there isn’t really much challenge there now either.
The game does incorporate a star system which makes going back to levels feel slightly less cheap and also less just about grinding, but to be fair that is still all you are effectively doing. You can only win stars on levels you have already beaten before and you win them by beating the level without getting hurt. Winning more stars unlocks more gear for you to equip, which is necessary for progressing through the game.
Spellspire has already been released on other consoles, but I believe it feels more at home on the Switch, with the nature of the game and the fact that it is best played it short, five-minute bursts at a time. It is just such a perfect fit. It also of course benefits by having a touch screen which is easily the best way to play the game, as it allows for much quicker word making. As such, I played the game mostly in handheld mode.
Spellspire isn’t a bad game, it is simply let down by the fact that it hasn’t been adapted fully for consoles. It is still a mobile game at heart, just now without any in-app purchases. To me, that is what is most infuriating because I would recommend this game to most people if it meant you didn’t have to go back to each level multiple times and grind until you are strong enough to finally progress. For this reason, it’s hard to recommend to people unless you truly love word games of this ilk, because if you do, regardless of whether you care about doing the same levels over and over, you’re still going to have fun playing.