Republished on Wednesday, 13th July, 2022: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of July's PS Plus Extra, Premium lineup. The original text follows.
It’s been a year since Spirit of the North first took us on an adventure on PlayStation 4, but with the PlayStation 5’s recent launch, Infuse Studio has brought it back for a second round. Set within Iceland, we find ourselves playing an ordinary Fox, guided by the Guardian of the Northern Lights after the land and skies become stained by red corruption. Drawing heavily from Nordic folklore, it brings us an artistic experience that offers a comprehensive visual upgrade but remains held back by cumbersome controls.
From snowy tundras to mountainside greenery, Spirit of the North pulls you into this intriguing tale through environmental storytelling, no narrators or dialogue included. It’s a big world to explore, filled with murals that depict past events and there’s no mini map to guide you. All we get are occasional location prompts from our guardian friend, who leads us on this journey as we fight back against the mysterious plague. We say fight, but there's no combat here; this experience is completed via solving environmental puzzles. Some are easily dealt with, like matching symbols between a set of statues, but it gets more complicated as you advance.
Starting off with a basic moveset of running, jumping, and picking up objects, the Fox gradually unlocks new spiritual powers, which require spirit energy to activate. That’s obtained from blue flowers and you can transfer this energy to power up stone tethers. When powered up, the Fox can release bursts of energy to destroy any rooted corruption, channel your spiritual body to another location for a short amount of time, and spirit dash to land those extra-long jumps. Staffs are also lying about, alongside the skeletal remains of some long-deceased shaman spirits. Reuniting them with staffs opens new pathways to begin with, though it becomes more of an optional extra later on.
The story is split into chapters but all you need is an afternoon to complete it, taking several hours without getting lost. For the most part, Spirit of the North comes together well, presenting us a refined artistic experience that’ll have you hooked, effectively using environmental storytelling to draw you into this world. Gameplay can be slow paced at times, which will be admittedly off-putting for some, and there are times where it isn’t clear what’s needed to advance, but the game rewards those with patience. All of this is backed up by a fully orchestrated soundtrack which truly brings this world to life, though song changes aren’t especially subtle.
That said, it holds several flaws which are hard to ignore and a lot of this regards the controls. This isn’t such a problem during basic exploration, letting you run across large open fields, but it can feel a bit stiff when it comes to jumping. Considering some platforming segments require greater precision, it becomes easy to make mistakes and those can be time consuming. Disappointingly, this was also an issue within the PS4 edition, so it is a shame that Infuse Studios didn’t spend more time fixing this.
That said, where Spirit of the North really benefits from the Enhanced Edition’s next-gen upgrade lies within the visuals, featuring remastered textures/objects and improved lighting for an already beautiful game. Boosting resolution to 4K, it really brings out the finer details of these Icelandic landscapes, running smoothly at a solid 60 frames-per-second. Better yet, it also includes a photo mode to take full advantage of this and there’s also unlockable fox skins to swap between, including two new ones for this remaster.
Infuse Studio has done a fantastic job in remastering Spirit of the North’s visuals for PS5, but while it looks gorgeous, this edition neglects the elements that needed an update most. Though the controls remain stiff and your objectives aren’t always clear, anyone willing to look past this will find a wonderful experience at the core. If you’ve been searching for a new adventure game, Spirit of the North is short but sweet and despite these flaws, comes recommended.