10tons have been one of the Vita’s most under-rated content producers, bringing us titles ranging from twin-stick shooters (Crimsonland), to puzzlers (Sparkle), to arcade space shooters (Xenoraid) throughout the handheld’s life. In Spellspire they take on the word-spelling RPG genre last seen on the Vita in 2016’s Letter Quest Remastered. It’s very interesting to see them take on yet another new genre, and the game itself is fundamentally solid – although very much an acquired taste that simply won’t be for everyone.
The core gameplay loop is deceptively simple; you’re climbing a tower as a tiny wizard, and to defeat enemies you have to cast spells. Spells are executed by spelling words from a grid of 10 letters on each floor (it only just occurred to me when writing this review that you have to spell in order to spell) – the longer the word, the more powerful the cast. There’s no real gameplay other than spelling words, therefore if you’re interested for the RPG aspect you’ll likely come away disappointed.
That isn’t to say that spelling is all the game has to offer, however. Defeated enemies and cleared levels drop coins and other treasure and you can use these in the game’s shop to buy various items and upgrades, and it’s here that the RPG elements come in. You can – for example – buy wands with different elemental attributes, which is useful as Spellspire‘s foes have a variety of elemental weaknesses. Although at the end of the day you’ll still need to spell the longest words possible to defeat them, it can give you an edge if you’re able to poison or freeze them to allow more time to think. Similarly, foes can also drop items such as potions or the ever-handy dictionary (which can spell 6-letter words for you), adding another layer of interactivity.
Aside from this, you can do various other things like buy health upgrades or in-game tips outside of the tower. In an interesting addition, there’s also a bonus loot chest that you can open every eight hours which gives extra items or gold to help on your journey. It’s times like these that you’ll be reminded that you’re playing a title that originally released on mobile, which is exacerbated by the general progression system.
Perhaps this is simply due to the fact that I wasn’t especially good at spelling longer words, but I hit a brick wall rather quickly in my journey with a boss capable of killing me in one hit (for more than three times my health) that I could barely tickle with damage. As such I was forced to replay previous levels to obtain gold to upgrade my equipment, but things rapidly became rather tedious since I was doing this without the introduction of any new foes or challenges. This may not be an issue other people come across if they’re capable of spotting bigger words than I was, but personally I found myself a bit frustrated to be blocked off from seeing more of the title like that. It felt like an occasion that would usually be filled with micro-transactions in a free-to-play title.
Of course, you’re encouraged to replay levels anyway to obtain stars, which are awarded for completing tasks such as making it to the end with full health. This will net you more gold to buy equipment and items with, so it’s definitely not a bad thing. In terms of content there’s a lot on offer here; 100 floors in the tower, plus additional challenges in the dungeon (not that I was able to verify this myself).
In presentation terms, Spellspire is a simple affair and again shows its mobile roots at times. Characters and enemies are drawn in a cute, cartoon-y style that fits well – while the tower itself is a series of corridors that tend to be a little more bland. Menus are easy to navigate around, with little pop-ups to tell you when a new item or equipment is available to purchase. Speaking of navigation, pretty much everything in game can be selected either using physical controls or the touchscreen, but bizarrely I found that the actual spelling portion could only be done via the touchscreen – despite the game claiming PlayStation TV compatibility.
Overall, Spellspire is a solid time-waster on Vita. If you’re into brain-teasing spelling games you’ll have a fun time, but otherwise some frustrating issues with progression and an overall lack of any particular ‘wow’ factor keep me from recommending it whole-heartedly. At least the small file size means it’s something you can keep on your memory card and dip into every now and again, as that way you might actually end up finishing it one day.