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Platform

GameCube

 

Genre

Platformer

 

Publisher

Dreamcatcher

 

Developer

Wanadoo Edition

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Release Date

Q4 2003

 

 

- At least thereís a developer attempting to make games for a younger audience that arenít tied into a merchandising license
- Retains its spooky Halloween aura throughout the entire game

 

 

- Bad camera makes playing game even harder
- Excluding trying to overcome the camera-caused difficulties in playing, most areas pose no challenge to even the youngest of gamers

 

 

N/A

 

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Spirits and Spells

Score: 4.7 / 10

 

Spirits and Spells for the GameCube is obviously targeted towards todayís young gamer in the 8-12 or so age group. It doesnít try to disguise that fact. With its Halloween-inspired storyline, cute characters, and basic 3D-platformer blueprints, it was aiming to be a good title for entertaining youthful gameplayers. But too many design problems hex Spirits and Spells, and when a game is too tough for adults to play at times, thereís little chance that the kids of today will find Spirits and Spells enchanting.

 

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Itís Halloween night as Spirits and Spells begins. The two main characters, Greg and Alicia, are with a bunch of trick-or-treaters who are attacked by the Bogeyman while traveling through the woods. Greg, costumed as a devil, and Alicia, dressed up as a witch, are the only two Halloweeners to escape his clutches, and now decide to enter the Bogeymanís realm, the World of the Dead, in an attempt to rescue the others. (Funny, I wouldíve thought they would take advantage of the fact that less kids knocking at doors would mean more candy for themselves).

 

Okay, the story premise isnít a bad one to entertain young children. But itís not the story that curses Spirits and Spells. Itís the gameís awful camera that dramatically affects the controls and a lack of challenging gameplay that quickly turns Spirits and Spells into a toad of a game. Although the levels have an appropriately spooky Halloween tone, Spirits and Spells is your basic 3D-platform game spawned from Super Mario 64, with jumping from various platforms, spinning bridges or other obstacles while collecting tokens (or in this case, crystals) youíve encountered in a hundred other similar games. But despite the cookie-cutter level design, Spirits and Spells could have been a decent game for younger gamers if it wasnít for a few major flaws that prevent it from being much fun at all.

 

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The worst atrocity is the gameís camera that follows the characters through the game, which is so shoddily designed it creates difficulties in completing even simple jumps. With major portions of the game requiring some sort of standard platform jumping tasks, having a badly-placed camera means it may take a few dozen attempts at one particular point of the game before you are able to complete it and move on. And with kids not having an exactly long attention span to begin 

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with, having multiple choke points in a game that require playing over and over does not increase the odds that a youngster will ever complete Spirits and Spells. There are points in the game where it is absolutely crucial to be able to see exactly where either Greg or Alicia is in relation to the intended landing point, but because of the camera, itís a blind leap of faith that you must rely on, hoping youíre where you should be to continue your adventure.

The other big crippling disability of Spirits and Spells is the low challenge level thatís even ridiculously unchallenging for young gameplayers. Now, like Iíve already mentioned, because of the camera, there are sections of Spirits and Spells that are too difficult for even adults that have played their share of platform games through the years. But the sections of Spirits and Spells that are just straightforward defeat-the-enemy attacking sessions are severely easy. Whack a bad guy such as a skeleton, witch, or ghost, and theyíre defeated with one shot. Even though they can take away one of your lives with just one hit too, they rarely get close enough to really be able to kill you. The majority of your deaths will occur due to a camera-related issue when jumping.

And there are practically no huge big boss battles. To rescue your friends, all you have to do is smash a few connected vessels containing their trapped spirits. These vessels would be the perfect place to square off against a big bad boss. But instead thereís usually just a few token ghoulie guards that must be defeated, requiring little effort or skill that even the youngest of gameplayers wonít find difficult.

 

And itís a shame that the camera and weak challenge level really doom Spirits and Spells, because there are a few facets of the game that are perfectly suited for the young gamer. You can select from either Greg or Alicia to play, and by collecting enough crystals, you can switch to the other character at any point in any level. Alicia is the better-balanced character, with her witchís hat being a more effective weapon than Gregís devilís pitchfork. Each can use more powerful attacks powered by the crystals by using a simple two-button press.

Crystals are a few of the power-up or special items the characters will encounter. There are also pumpkins that rely on a particular character to activate. The red pumpkins are related to fire and can only be activated by Greg. Likewise, the blue pumpkins related to water are only able to be activated by Alicia. These come into play too, because you canít pass certain sections unless you switch between characters and activate the pumpkins. Greg will die on ice and Alicia will die when confronted by fire, so the correct character must be in play to continue. Itís a good, simple problem-solving activity that provides some actual thinking moments in Spirits and Spells. Fairies give your character an extra hit before they expire and extra lives occasionally pop up from time to time. A varied attack selection and strategizing in the use of crystals give gamers a good example of the ABCís of platform gaming.

Each character is rendered cute-as-a-button and Spirits and Spellsí lighting and particle effects are well done, but mostly this is an average looking game with graphics that wonít make anybody forget the GameCubeís Mario Sunshine anytime soon. Despite pedestrian visuals and a few major flaws, at least the attempt was made to make a kidís game not tied into some sort of merchandising license, and for that Iíll give the developer some credit.

Even with its Halloween theme, Spirits and Spells is more of a cruel trick than a tasty treat. A disgraceful camera and some old-school-in-a-bad way platform game gameplay elements make this too difficult for its intended audience to play. Even worse, when Spirits and Spells does unmask some of its original gameplay facets, it can be too boring to bother.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

December 12, 2003

 

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