The best arcade experiences are often the simplest ones. From basic shooters to avoiding enemies like Pac-Man, these simple titles offer engaging, addictive gameplay. Spirit very much captures this… erm, spirit of classic gameplay, and adds enough modern flourish to make a memorable experience.
Feeling very much like an old-school arcade experience, Spirit features a lone floating body out to capture all the enemies by drawing a circle around them with your finger on a grid. This creates a black hole-like vortex, capturing any enemies that are in it or move into it. Defeat all the enemies on your current wave, and you move on to the next one until you run out of lives. There is no story here, just pure action. This isn’t a problem, however, as Spirit follows in the footsteps of great arcade titles like Tron or, more recently, Geometry Wars. In fact, these two games appear to be big inspirations for Spirit.
In particular, the legendary Lightcycles of Tron are given a 21st century facelift for the gameplay of Spirit. In Lightcycles, your bike would leave a trail behind it, and the goal was to trap your opponent in it. Here, the circling happens much faster – simply draw a circle with your finger to connect the trail Spirit leaves behind – but the effect is the same. Control is a breeze, with multiple sensitivity settings to make sure it’s tweaked just how you like it.
However, there is one small caveat. In an effort to give you more freedom to see the game, controlling Spirit is relative. What this means is that you can stop moving Spirit and move your finger to a different part of the screen and start drawing, Spirit will follow your movements even though your finger isn’t directly on top. This is an interesting idea for control, but you’ll be putting your finger where you want Spirit to be, not where Spirit actually is. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely takes some getting used to.
Scoring is based on how many ships you catch in one vortex creating a combo, and how many vortexes you can draw in a row to create a link bonus. (Don’t think you can just draw one vortex around the entire playfield; Spirit can’t move fast enough with a long-enough trail. Believe me, I’ve tried!) The higher the combo gets and the more links you perform, the higher your score will be. Every so often, an enemy will appear towing a mini-Spirit behind it. If you can encircle the enemy through the towline, you’ll earn an extra life.
The second game comparison, Geometry Wars, is extremely apt for this app. The graphics, from the neon geometric shapes of enemies to the warping grid playfield when a circle is drawn, to the wave-based gameplay, the inspiration is obvious. Spirit simply bumped it all up a notch.
Like Geometry Wars, the enemies are floating geometric shapes with different behaviors. At first, they are simple floating shapes, but they soon start having sporadic movements, homing movements and even full-screen laser fire! The graphics are always clear, clean and funky, and the gameplay is addictive to match. There is a constant looping rock/techno track that is functional, but not particularly memorable. It, along with sound effects if you wish, can be muted in the options screen, or simply keep your music playing from the iPhone feature and groove to your own custom soundtrack.
The one glaring omission was the lack of any online leaderboards for scoring or achievements. (However, at time of review, the developers have just launched OpenFeint support.) In the end, though, Spirit is a fantastic iPhone/iPod Touch title, borrowing from the best arcade experiences and building on top of them. Once you get used to the play control, you’ll be zipping around with ease. This is definitely one of the best arcade-style apps on the App Store right now. For anyone with an itchy arcade finger, Spirit will scratch that itch quite well.