Spellirium: hands-on preview

Writing about Spellirium seems a fitting act, as wordsmithery is the game’s unofficial middle name. This crowdfunded point-and-click PC adventure game from the fellows at Untold Entertainment Inc. is noteworthy not only for its intriguing ideas, but also its immediately available Alpha that we got to check out. We explored the Prologue and First Act, which set the stage for just what Spellirium has in store for any would-be-Websters that care to brave its challenges.

The plot opens with an ancient-sounding fellow beginning an exposition-heavy intro that looks to be as long as it is dull. Todd, the game’s hero, quickly brushes the idea aside, borrowing a play from the game’s irreverent humour and taking the narrative into his own hands. Todd is a but a tailor, as far as one can tell; unremarkable apart from his impressively sardonic expression. The pedestrian set-up wastes no time, however, launching into a distinctly satirical take on the classic hero’s journey as Todd finds a magical device that has him transforming properly spelled words into… magic. The specifics are unclear, but he manages to float trees, paint wool, decimate bricks and literally scare the scat out of unsuspecting monsters with a few well placed vowels. Its versatility is a lucky thing, as that’s just about all Todd has going for him.

He may not be the scariest monster, but give him time; he’s still green.

Every challenge your average adventure game would throw at you, be it the bashing of doors or doing of exceptionally menial chores, is handled through spelling. The game uses a traditional Boggle-esque grid, letting you swap tiles around at the cost of your limited meter, but looks to freshen things up by using your given activity to change the rules on you. Some of our favourite examples were having to find proper synonyms to “shear” Todd’s loyal sheep, or completing a bard’s pitiful attempt at music by filling in his blanks with some appropriately-rhymed words. The colourful world and adventures provide a clever context for the usually abstract toils of wordplay. while also managing to sidestep the usual fare of point-and-click head-scratchers that can leave many a player frustrated.

Not all of Todd’s quest is so linear, however. We found ourselves fighting monsters, collecting words, and trading our growing vocabulary for a variety of shiny objects. The blend of RPG and tile-swapping fun brought back memories of Infinite Interactive’s fantastic Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords; while Spellirium will be hard-pressed to match the hit’s polished ambitions, its influences are clear, and make a promising sign for Spellirium’s future. At the least, it’s looking to provide a more expansive quest than your average Monkey Island successor, which is some welcome experimentation for the genre.

Kill this monster and you might get a shiny a-word! That was a pun. Do I need to spell it out for you? I promise they’ll end sooner or letter.

Though the Alpha left us with promising concepts, it took some ample imagination to fill in the gaping blanks left by its still-unfinished state. Animations were choppy, bugs were frequent (the game froze hard on us several times), and sound was absent almost altogether. Some tweaks mechanically wouldn’t go amiss either, with an oddly forgiving loss system that allows limping through the challenges and side-content which serves more often as mandatory filler than rewarding exploration. What will go and stay in the coming months is up for money, time, and Untold Entertainment to decide; but they’ve got an exciting idea on their hands and the ambition to make it grand.

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Written by Bryan K

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