One of the wittiest adventure games since Monkey Island.
By Bane Williams on May 7, 2013 at 11:09 am
Spellirium has that feeling of a game from my childhood re-imagined and upgraded to fit into todays times. It’s a point-n-click adventure, but without all that silly ‘make sure you click here and combine the turkey and the jackhammer’ nonsense, it’s also a word puzzle game that actually has a story and purpose. Finally it has a charming atmosphere coupled with amazingly witty dialogue. Sold yet?
If not, let me attempt to persuade you more eloquently. You play as Brother Todd, the youngest member of a secret society known as the Runekeepers. The Runekeepers are some of a small handful of individuals in the world who actually know how to read. Reading has been forbidden by the potentially nefarious Lord Steve (who I’m not entirely convinced isn’t the monkey from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs).
When Brother Todd leaves his home to shear some sheep, a tragic event strikes, leaving him saddled with a strange device capable of using words to create, manipulate, or destroy. Brother Todd then sets out into the world proper for the first time, hoping to find out exactly what the device is, and why people are so desperate to prevent him from having it.
The world isn’t like today. A cataclysmic event tore the world asunder, and left most of the technology we use as detritus. Trash is everywhere, and is so abundant that the inhabitants of the world have made just about everything out of it. This recurring theme, dubbed “trashpunk” by creator Ryan Creighton, adds a distinct flavour to the game that hasn’t really been explored anywhere else.
Spellirium is an absolute blast. I haven’t enjoyed the dialogue in a game this much since playing a certain Ron Gilbert adventure in the early 90’s. It’s witty and goofy, while still maintaining an element of maturity that keeps it from getting out of hand. I have honestly not found myself laughing or smiling in a game in the last decade as much as I have with Spellirium.
The word-puzzle elements are very interesting. You have a standard 7×7 grid of letters to make your words from, and you can swap tiles anywhere on the board… they don’t have to be adjacent, although the further away they are the more energy they will use. While creating words like this is straightforward, their application isn’t. Need to shear a sheep? You’ll be wanting to make words like “cut”, “shear”, or “denude”. Dying said wool red might mean only using red letters, and spinning the wool into a garment presents a directional challenge instead.
You also get various companions along the way, such as Lorms, the giant fluffy blue monster who is extremely fearful of small insects. These companions will give you additional abilities to use throughout the puzzles, and add an extra dimension of tactical flow when working through them.
It’s in these ways that the game is kept fresh. Even when Spellirium has you pitted against more generic puzzles, there are specific challenges to aim for, and words to find that can cause an enemy to flee in terror. It’s all a lot of fun, and backed by a story that is actually worth paying attention to, if only for the fourth wall humor the game throws in at regular intervals.
It’s important to note that Spellirium is still heavily in alpha. I don’t mean the kind of Aliens: Colonial Marines ‘pre-alpha’ that is actually better than the finished product, either — Spellirium is definitely unfinished. While there are a few spoken lines of dialogue as placeholders, there is pretty much zero sound in the current product. There are a number of bugs, ranging from simple graphics issues to more complex game logic problems, but in my experience nothing truly gamebreaking ever occurred.
But for an alpha, it shows an awful lot of polish already. The word puzzle element is strongly fleshed out, there is a lot of depth there in addition to things I have already mentioned, and some of the instances can be both fiendishly difficult and incredibly rewarding. The environments and overall look are thematically awesome, and the self abasing humor never gets old.
So, if a trashpunk point-and-click adventure word puzzle sounds like a rollicking good time to you (and it is), you could do a heck of a lot worse than snagging a copy of the Spellirium alpha. The game might be a sizeable way from being finished, but what is there, is absolute gold polished to a mirror sheen. And besides, who wouldn’t want to back a game studio run by someone who tastefully shaved balls onto his face for Movember? That’s pure dedication right there, folks.
You can (and should) pre-order Spellirium from the developer’s official site. $15 gets you into the alpha, and a bunch of other goodies too (including a Steam key).