[REVIEW] SpiritSphere DX (Switch)

Oracle of Aces

Fabraz might be a name you’re familiar with as they are the creators of Slime-san; the gooey good time pixel-platformer packed with plenty of content, with a great following. Serving as a publisher for the next title that has arrived on Nintendo Switch, SpiritSphere DX, developed by eendhoorn, is the deluxe version of a previously released title which offers a similarly intense on-your-toes experience in the form of a hybrid. SpiritSphere DX is a mish-mash where fantasy meets racket sport. There’s a respectable amount of modes and ways to play which is to be appreciated and it certainly offers a fun time for those looking into quick sessions of competitiveness with your buddies. Just make sure you have them right next to you or the longevity of SpiritSphere DX will wear thin quickly.

There’s a good variety to SpiritSphere DX which never leaves it feeling stale.

Unmistakably, the art style is a true homage to The Legend of Zelda series, most dominantly the Oracle series for the GameBoy Color. There’s even nods to other franchises as well and they really show through the character designs themselves. More-so than how it looks, the feel of the game is dependent on different variables such as how each court plays differently from each other. Not only that, every character has their own attributes. I would describe the behavior of SpiritSphere DX to be like using a tennis racket to hit a puck on a large air hockey table. The result is mostly satisfying. The pucks, called “spheres”, also come in more than a handful of types also changing up how each match is played. To create possible chaos, items will show up on each of the players’ sides and can be the deciding factor. However, there’s also a bit of risk involved as going out of your way to pick up an item may cost you a point and/or the game.

Sometimes it’s about the targets in the middle and not your direct opposite.

Pressing Y will make your character swing at the sphere, but it’s not only method of hitting it. Essentially, your entire body can behave as puck pushers (hand objects used to hit pucks) by simply touching spheres. Pressing B will allow a dash move to be performed as well and the longer you hold down the input the faster and further the dash becomes. Good for reaching those incoming far away shots. A power swing can be performed by pressing A and charging it will allow for a much more powerful shot. Any struck sphere’s trajectory can be altered by angling the left analog in any direction upon impact. This can lead to curving and manipulating where the sphere goes in many instances. The hero Lin, who resembles Link from The Legend of Zelda series, is a basic all-rounder and swings her sword to hit spheres in the same vein as any 2D game in the series. Dwarf is a heavier character who is powerful yet slower at the same time, but can also aim his ax before taking a shot. Not all characters use a weapon or even any object for that matter. One rides in a kart and another is a wizard who uses magic and can teleport.

Intensity can ramp up.

Spheres also come in different speeds, sizes and specialties. They can be faster than the average sphere or they can be slower. There are tiny versions and then there are large ones. Some of the unique ones that show up in a match even contain magic of sorts. At times spheres can be become invisible, leaving only their shadow to look out for. Other times they split and clone themselves when they are hit. Some even shoot a fiery projectile towards their opponent at the same time. These variables change it up and add extended fun to the matches especially if played consecutively. Mix that in with each course playing differently and there’s multiple scenarios at play here. For instance, one dungeon stage can pull down barrier blocks (Zelda) on your opponent’s side as long as you are stepping on the switch on your side that lines up with theirs. SpiritSphere DX offers enough variety to play with and where else it shines is the other handful of modes it offers. Destroying environmental objects, such as grass and even enemies, can drop items such as boots for speed, shields to deflect spheres, a bow & arrow to shoot your opponent and even more, all used by pressing X.

 

When playing solo, players can go through a campaign composed of 10 levels, which are random and never in order, except for the final boss. Players can get a taste of how different each opponent, spheres and stages are. Somewhere in the middle is a “bonus” level where it’s just frisbee and you must catch as many tossed frisbees as you can until you miss a total of three. You may continue each level as many times as you’d like when you lose, but at the cost of collected coins. Each level completed will earn your coins and based on your performance will decide the amount of coins earned. If you’re feeling like you have enough coins and don’t want to lose any, the game never penalizes you for quitting campaign and doing so will allow you to take the coins you’ve earned with you. It’s a nice system that doesn’t punish the player. But… what to do with coins? Spend them in the fountain to unlock goodies.

Daddy needs a new pair of socks!

Dropping 100 coins into the fountain will unlock any 1 item for use in local play. These can be from new sphere types to new character skins. There’s just less than 50 to unlock and going through campaign a few times will give you a decent amount of coins to spend for unlockables. There are duplicates, however. Spending coins may grant you an item you have already won. This may happen more than a few times actually (Smash Bros. trophies anyone?). Still, the amount to unlock isn’t exactly overwhelming so eventually coming across ever single one is doable. Character unlocks can be obtained through completing the campaign. You might lose coins in the process, but at least you’ll have a character.

Why not use your new character in one of the many other modes? Up to 4 players can play locally and there are modes for each. There’s a boss mode which pits players against, well, none other than bosses. Squash mode has players sharing the same real estate and take turns hitting the same wall where a missed hit will count towards the others’ score. Target mode has players aiming for targets, which may also be enemies, in the middle of the court for points. Sometimes hitting the ball towards the sides so it can bounce back & forth is a decent strategy to use here. Above anything else, one smart feature SpiritSphere DX incorporates is making use of the Nintendo Switch itself in handheld mode called Hand2Hand and it’s a brilliant use of 2-player action. Here, both players take control of either side of the Nintendo Switch (left and right Joy-Con) and play with the machine vertically against each other on the same screen. This is a fantastic idea. It can be cramped, but that also provides a nostalgic and arcade feel to the entire thing. It also just works very well in general and Eendhoorn gets our applause for creativity.

In fact, SpiritSphere DX excels in local play compared to other games in the similar genre. The amount of modes, characters types, sphere types, stages and fast-paced action up to 4 players can offer a great time. However, it’s truly best with friends and family who can are in the same vicinity. Campaign, while fun with random levels, is relatively short. Once you’ve seen it the first couple of times you’ve pretty much seen it all. Playing through it is meaningful for unlocking extras, but it ends up feeling like a grind. It doesn’t help that SpiritSphere DX has no online functionality to play against others. This hurts the overall lasting appeal. Now, we understand not every game should include online multiplayer and not every game necessarily needs it. There are no points docked for indie developers with a limited budget to not include online modes of any kind. SpiritSphere DX offers respectable content, especially for $10. If you have local players nearby at all times then you’re pretty much set. With that in mind, since playing solo will be the case for a lot of people then a story mode for the campaign would have benefited SpiritSphere DX overall. Simple 1 liners before matches start just isn’t enough to care about what’s going on. They’re charming even if it’s very much straight to the point, but going the extra mile for a 1-player mode in game which is only locked to local play would have been a wonderful addition. I’d like to know more about these characters. There are also a lacking of options for matches, too, resulting in matches ending quickly. Being able to create a number of sets and rules would have added more depth.

I will say, however, the music certainly helps. The chiptune soundtrack done by Gas1312 not only sounds the part, but it’s also pretty good.

Summary
SpiritSphere DX is a retro callback, both visually & audibly, and feels like a lost gem from an old era. It takes any old tennis match and uses magic to spice things up, resulting in matches to play out in a multitude of ways. It's straight up a great local multiplayer game and one that's great for playing in the backseat of road trips if there's only one Nintendo Switch around. Plus it's $10 which isn't too shabby, either. Still, with no online functionality and being a game that is best with friends, the single player doesn't add much replayability. However, if you got the peeps around and Mario Tennis Aces is a stretch to your budget, this should be a good fix.
The Stellar
  • Era-fitting pixel art.
  • Various modes, characters, spheres and stages with hazards.
  • Up to 4 players can have a blast.
The Lesser
  • Single player mode is sorely lacking.
  • Modes are there, but match configuration is not.
7.4
Solid
Gameplay - 7.75
Visual - 7
Audio - 8
Value - 7

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