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iPhone review of the day: Spirits is like Lemmings on valium - a challenging yet soothing puzzle/platformer

On iPhone
Price: $2.99 / £1.79
Size: 42.9 MB
Get it now at the iTunes store:US/UK

On iPad
Price: $4.99 / £2.99
Size: 42.2MB
Get it now at the iTunes store:US/UK

We adore Spirits for iPad, and although it naturally surrenders much of the real estate that comes with the tablet’s territory, the Lemmings-style puzzle/platformer is equally excellent on the iPhone. The vibrant background colors and stark characters stand out sharply against the black foreground, and it looks absolutely gorgeous on an iPhone 4’s retina display. The goofy trombone background music just caps off Spirits’ jovial charm.

A hybrid of ideas, Spirits is the beautiful baby of Lemmings or Lucidity and World of Goo. Spirits – these white, floppy headed fellows are our favorite new video game characters – sprout from the ground and blindly walk forward regardless of impending peril. To save ‘em from falling to their spiky death and to ensure they make it to the twirling goal marker, you’ll have to sacrifice a few spirits. The oblivious creatures are your sole resource for success, and you’ll need to use their transformation abilities skilfully to dig tunnels, transform into ramps, ride the breeze, and otherwise progress through the increasingly challenging, regularly difficult, but rarely frustrating scenarios.

Various levels employ various spirit transformations, beginning with just a simple one – turning a little dude into a diagonally inclined, leafy walkway – before having to combine a handful during complex puzzles. It’s not exactly a high-stress, fast-paced game, but Spirits requires quick thinking and faster tapping when you have to destroy a wall and create a way to launch a dozen speedy spirits halfway up a walkway. Beyond having to restart a short level, Spirits has no means of punishment. Trial-and-error typically carries negative connotations, but exploring different means of assisting your spirits is sort of soothing – sit back, relax, retry.

Another cool angle Spirits takes is that it relies heavily on physics. Launching your guys into wind streams (often with your own spirit-made directional gust) requires careful, thoughtful placement. If you flub a transformation, you could send a spirit smashing into a roof, flying too far, not flying far enough, or ending up in a perpetual loop between opposing forces.

With such large melons, you’d think the spirits’ brains would be big enough to keep ‘em from wandering aimlessly to their doom, but their stupidity is our gain. You can’t do much better than Spirits if you’re in the market for a great puzzler.

Feb 8, 2011