Alpha Impressions: Spellirium

Today I successfully “ripped” the wool off a sheep. It was painless for the animal, somehow, and I was grimacing the whole time. But we got through it, that sheep and I. A team consisting of a sheltered word nerd and a slightly perturbed grass muncher. Dream team right there. Yet it was not the oddest pairing I would encounter during my playthrough of Spellirium, not by a long shot. How about my time spent with a blue tunk – the worst of their kind – monsters, that is. Luckily, this one was friendly, and as I saved him from a deadly, tiny spider (yeah, right) with my SpellCaster, he offered his services as a bodyguard under the promise that I would turn him back to his non-monster form once I had learned the appropriate spell. It was the start to a long journey.

Part of me is hesitant to tell you that Spellirium is a game about words, and that a fair amount of playtime involves doing a word puzzle upon a grid consisting of 49 letters. I’m hesitant because most people would jump back, groan a bit and pull a disgusted face before running off. But you shouldn’t, because not only is it incredibly smart in its word puzzling parts, but it’s also a funny and wonderfully animated graphic adventure. As you play it, you’ll find it very hard to not get completely drawn in. You know that magic that some really well illustrated kids films have? I’m talking Disney here (the funny ones). Well, Spellirium is a bit like that.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s bring it back for a moment and go through the game one step at a time.

Spellirium

First off, I should point out that the version I’ve been playing is only an alpha build, and it came with barely any sound whatsoever, and still it managed to suck me right in. You can play it yourself right now; all you have to do is pre-order the game, which is something I know some people have a problem with, but if you’ve got the money, then there is some consolation in that the game is moving on into its final stages, rather than being conceptual at this point, like many many of the games that are crowdfunded tend to be. Basically, the gist is that the game is guaranteed to come out soon, barring an unpredictable and unfortunate event that would rock the whole game sideways happening.

You play as a young man called Todd, who is part of a group of Runekeepers posing as tailors. In this land, Lord Steve rules, and no one is allowed to read or write under his law, and due to this there is no one who is even the slightest bit literate. No one except the Runekeepers – runes being the letters of the alphabet in this case. They taught Todd to read and write, and he’s been sheltered inside their small shop, dungeon and surrounding field all of his life. You join him on his initiation day, which is when he gains his cloak and gets to explore the wider world, doing the things that Runekeepers do.

Before long, you discover that one of your Brothers has been killed, and in his hand he had the SpellCaster. With this you can start casting spells, and you do that by matching words in a grid on its interface. You can move any letters on the grid – they don’t have to be adjacent. What limits you is a bar at the top of the device that is drained every time you switch letter tiles, and more energy is drained the further apart they are. But wait; there’s a lot more to it than that, and it gets very fun.

Spellirium


“While the ever-changing gameplay in Spellirium will keep players on their toes, the engaging story will glue them to the experience.”


Your first challenge has you matching any old words just to get you used to the process. Next you have to shear a sheep, and to do that, you need to create words that pertain to such an act. This is where I discovered I could rip the wool off. But I also used cut, shave and shear to finish the job. After that, you then get a bunch of red tiles to use as you dye the wool red – you have to specifically use these to create words to complete the challenge. Next up, you use a yarn, which requires you to match words in a certain direction in order to spin the wheel, so first you’d go right, then down, then left and then up, for a full revolution. From the very start, Spellirium shows how diverse it can be, just in having you matching words in a grid.

Later on in the game you start fighting monsters, and to defeat them, you have certain parameters to stick to. My favorite example is the monster that has big ears that can only be defeated by using onomatopoeia. Words like bang, crash and boom do it right in! The game tracks every single word that you create too, as well as all of the monsters you’ve fought – a dictionary and bestiary do the trick respectively.

Extra challenges can be taken on throughout the game too. As you collect extra parts for your SpellCaster, you soon unlock means to store words off to the side of the interface so that you don’t have to memorize them. These words are challenges set by some of the characters, or it may be a way of paying for junk from the shop. These are optional, of course, but while you’re going around defeating monsters, you may as well just have the challenges open in case the opportunity to complete them presents itself.

Spellirium

Complementing Spellirium greatly, as said before, is its setting, cartoon graphics and touches of humor. The game’s world is one that is described as “trashpunk.” It’s an odd setting as it feels like traditional fantasy, albeit with more quirky creatures, which would place it among knights on horses and all of that lark. But as you meet The Mystic – a woman who apparently knows everything – it is revealed that electricity has been discovered and gadgets that use it invented. So it’s post-apocalyptic in many ways, almost a less cluttered and, quite frankly, more likeable version of Deponia’s trash world setting. Importantly, everything seems to flow together well, and none of the story or setting feels out of place.

I know that cutscenes are a hit or miss with people, but in Spellirium they’re used sparingly and when appropriate, just to give that extra bit of character to the game. I’d happily sit down and watch a cartoon series of the game. You might do with your kid, if you have one, especially. And this brings me on to the vast educational possibilities of Spellirium! I’m pretty sure that the majority of kids will find it an absolute blast and won’t even realize that they’re learning, which is the best kind, isn’t it? I mean, there’s certainly a bit of a mature line of thinking running through the game as it’s quite grim in places and could require a decent grasp of the English language to understand parts of it. But other than that, it’s fun, a bit silly in places, and it’s got some great game ideas at its core.

And sure, I may enjoy my words and messing around with them, but anyone could get into Spellirium due to its presentation and engaging story. Definitely worth giving a look if it sounds up your street. It’s as clever and silly as it sounds.