SpellKeeper

There’s plenty of “place tiles on grid” games out there. SpellKeeper is just the latest one, and to be frank, it’s not particularly special. Which is not to say it sucks or anything. If you’re into puzzlers, it’s perfectly fine. Then again, with puzzle games nothing I say besides whether it works or not matters. If I say it works, puzzle fans buy it. If I say it’s broken, they don’t. Non-puzzle fans will never be swayed to give the genre a try. That’s just how it is. Yet, I keep reviewing them, because I love this genre. But it’s hard to go into full Indie Gamer Chick mode and really pick apart games like this. There’s not really all that much to pick apart. I feel like a food critic who has to do an entire review of an Olive Garden based on the bread sticks.

Credit where it’s due to SpellKeeper: the graphics are clean and beautiful. For some reason I couldn’t get the board game Pretty Pretty Princess that I forced my parents to play a LOT of in my youth out of my head while playing this. And by “youth” I mean we stopped playing around the time I was 28. Hey, that’s younger than I am now. It still counts!

For SpellKeeper the concept is to place tiles called “spells” on a grid that guide a source light to crystal cocoons that open up into butterflies. The old “reflect the light” mechanic has been done a zillion times before, most memorably in Zelda: Wind Waker. Hey, the classics are classics for a reason: they work. And SpellKeeper works and is pretty fun. But having played tons grid puzzlers, I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re the simplest of all logic-based brain-benders. Once you get a feel for reverse-engineering the levels, you should be able to breeze through most stages with minimum resistance. Often you can do this just by even the simplest of monkeying-around with the various tiles you have until the final move becomes self-evident. From there, you just sort of work backwards. I used this to solve 80% of the puzzles I finished in SpellKeeper in under a minute. Your mileage may vary, but as far as puzzle games go, this one was one of the easier ones I’ve dealt with. But hey, it is genuinely well done, fun, and who doesn’t like butterflies? I mean, I don’t. They’re glorified moths we’ve decided are less gross or annoying because their wings are pretty. Ladybugs get away with this too. Spiders could really learn a lesson from them. If they’d just put on a little makeup they’d be on the receiving end of significantly less rolled-up newspapers. Something nice looking, you know? A red splotch shaped like an hourglass isn’t enough. In fact, that just sort of makes you look like a serial killer.

Where was I?

It’s worth noting that I play a *lot* of puzzle games and so you might actually find SpellKeeper harder than I did. My fans on Twitter who got copies via #IndieSelect seemed to find it challenging.

I actually do have a few things to moan about, and not that fun bedroom type of moan. The interface is moderately clunky. You use the control stick to move the cursor, but you have to use the D-pad to point some of the tiles in the direction you want to use them. The left trigger cycles through the tiles you can use. For whatever reason, it never felt natural to me and I was constantly fumbling with it. And there’s a few stages with multiple-outs, which is a personal puzzle pet peeve developers productively pass-over perpetually. Hell, at least twice I finished stages without using all the tiles in my inventory. I like my logic puzzlers tightly designed and having several solutions is the complete opposite of tight (unless the game is based around that, which SpellKeeper isn’t). It led to situations where know I was beating levels in ways the developer never envisioned. And for some reason, when that happens I always picture developers screaming at me in Boss Hogg’s voice like he’s threatening to get the Dukes. No joke. And now you will too. You’re welcome.

Later in the game, SpellKeeper adds “moths” that are already hatched but turn back into cocoons if the light touches them. God, I wish that’s how it worked in real life. I’d make them so much easier to hit with a shoe.

But, by far the worst part of SpellKeeper is how many tutorial-feeling levels there are. When new mechanics are introduced, which happens in all four “worlds” of the game, you can count on the first few rooms using new titles being completely toothless. It seems like these are here to help players get the hang of new tile-types. That would be a fine, perfectly logical design choice. Except for the fact that there are tutorials besides the stages I’m talking about! When you start a new world, it opens with a few tutorial rooms. And then those finish and the next few rooms are like the world’s most embarrassing preschool. It’s a common mistake puzzle makers do. Have a little faith in your audience, puzzle developers! This isn’t a super-intense platformer or a white-knuckle rescue mission in a shooter. It’s a fucking puzzler. We buy them with expectations of having our grey matter put through the wringer. You don’t have to build-in rest periods for us. It’s not like baseball where there’s so much non-stop action that they had to create the seventh inning stretch just to assure players don’t die from exhaustion after strenuously standing around doing nothing but grabbing their crotches and spitting for the last two hours.

And that’s especially true of puzzle games, which are at their very best when you only play one or two levels per a session. Games like SpellKeeper have their place, but I’ve never felt comfortable with the idea of marathoning through them. I like a puzzler I can open up when I know I don’t have enough time to invest in a game that requires a lot of attention. Where I can put ten minutes into it, knock out a few stages, and then turn off my device feeling perfectly content and satisfied. If I’ve got a short time frame to work with, maybe I can open up Mario Odyssey and have enough time to grab a new moon. But I don’t know it. But with a game like SpellKeeper, I know my session will end with progress being made. That is a puzzler at its most idealized. SpellKeeper good for that. But it should be great for that, and it’s not. There’s just too much downtime with relatively weak stages. To be fair, if you enjoy the genre you’ll never be bored playing SpellKeeper and a lot of its puzzles offer real challenges. That’s why SpellKeeper has won my seal of approval. But far too many of the levels outside the tutorials would embarrass my niece, who just turned six and will appreciate the shout-out here. Happy Birthday, Angela. Yes, you’re right, that game with the butterflies was fucking easy.

SpellKeeper was developed by Silesia Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam, App Store, Google Play

$5.99 put snuck away innocently while their niece got her mouth washed out with soap in the making of this review.

SpellKeeper is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

A review copy of SpellKeeper was provided to Indie Gamer Chick. On April 2, a copy of SpellKeeper was purchased by Cathy. All games reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are paid for out-of-pocket by Indie Gamer Chick. For more on this policy, read the FAQ.

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