Review: Spellspire

Review: Spellspire

Spellspire, the mobile game where you attack enemies by spelling words, has come to consoles and PC! Part RPG and part word game, you’ll need to frantically throw out hundreds upon hundreds of words to conquer the enormous Spellspire.

With the limitations of waiting for lives and prompts for spending money gone, the console/PC version of the game leaves behind an epic climb up 100 floors to conquer the foreboding Spellspire. With dozens of wands, hats and robes to choose from, gold for upgrades and random item drops you’ll be well-prepared to take on the hordes of enemies, but keep in mind your most important weapon is your vocabulary!

 

 

Title: Spellspire
Developer10tons Ltd
Platform: Xbox One
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by the Developer
Interface: Xbox One Controller
Available on Steam, PS4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows Phone 8

Spellspire is a thrilling mashup of word game and action role playing game. Pick letters from a grid to spell words and shoot them from your wand as spells. The longer the word, the bigger the blast! Can you make it to the top of the Spellspire?

The premise of Spellspire is incredibly simple – each floor has a lineup of enemies and your job is to spell words using the 10 letters given to you (Q is presented as “Qu”, but I only came across that once in dozens of hours). Words can range from 3-10 letters long, and the longer the word the more damage it does. Every 10th floor is an exception – instead of a lineup of enemies you’re presented with one extra-powerful boss enemy. What makes the game unique, however, is the way the battle actually works – this isn’t a turn-based RPG where you get an infinite amount of time to spell words before the enemy attacks (like the also-excellent Letter Quest). Instead, each enemy has a timer before it attacks. You can hurl as many words as you’d like at the enemy before its timer reaches zero and attacks, meaning that if you’re quick enough you can clear whole floors without ever being attacked! The timers range from less than 10 seconds for super quick enemies to over 30 seconds for slower, more powerful ones. While even 10 seconds SOUNDS like a lot of time, when you’re trying to throw multiple words at an enemy after already spelling a dozen or so it becomes much more hectic! On an average floor you may kill numerous foes without taking damage, and once a floor is completed you’re even given a challenge to complete a floor with full health and faster-attacking enemies to earn a star.

 

 

While the premise is so simple, there are lots of extra layers of awesomeness on top of it. You start with a basic wand (the Makeshift Wand) and you can unlock more by completing floors or collecting stars. With a couple exceptions wands come in four flavors – fire, ice, poison or death. Fire and poison wands do damage over time, the ice wand freezes an enemy’s attack timer for a short period of time and the death wand does extra damage, bringing some of the health back to you. In addition to the damage types, each enemy has strengths and/or weaknesses. Undead typically resist the death effect, whereas gelatinous cubes are usually weak against death but resist ice and/or fire. If an enemy resists an element, not only does it do less damage, it also doesn’t deal the damage over time, freeze its timer or steal its health. As the game goes on you’ll find yourself juggling between wands based on what foes you’ll face on a particular floor. By the last 20-30 floors you’ll be stuck with enemies that all resist different types of damage, meaning that no matter what you choose some will be particularly tricky foes! This all means that the RPG nature of the game is as important as your vocabulary: you can spell words all day but if you use a fire wand on a floor of enemies resistant to fire you’ll have a heck of a time! You can also upgrade each wand 7 times with gold you earn from defeating enemies. Each upgrade adds to its attack power, but you’ve got to be careful not to spend too much on a wand that you’ll soon replace with an upgraded version!

 

 

In addition to wands you also get to choose which robe and hat you’ll wear. These unlock similarly to the wands, but they all do different things. The Rugged Robe absorbs 10% of monster attack damage, for example, and the Lucky Robe makes monsters drop more items. The Leprechaun’s Hat causes enemies to drop gold each time they’re hit and the Genie Hat makes palindromes do 15x more damage! Like the wands they can also be upgraded, but robes increase your max health and hats give a bit of an increase to both attack and health. It was nice that the robes and hats cater more to your play style than what enemies you’ll face, so while each level has an optimal wand to go with it, it’s really up to you which hat and robe to wear.

The last piece of your arsenal is your inventory. As you defeat enemies, they’ll sometimes drop random items. These include healing potions, scrolls and dictionary books. Healing potions heal you (surprise surprise!), scrolls come in multiple flavors and act like their corresponding wands (although the ice scroll freezes enemies longer without doing damage) and dictionaries set up a word automatically for you. These are the most interesting and there are two different dictionaries – one plays a random 5-6 letter word and the other simply plays the longest word possible. These are extra epic as you can play not only that word, you can use that word for additional ideas. “Spoilsport” for example would also inspire “spoil”, “sport”, “spoils”, “sports”, “spot”, “spots” and many more. If you’re using a robe that increases the item drop rate you’ll likely get another dictionary by the time you’re done with them all, which can then inspire even more words!

 

 

When the game began, it was almost painfully easy. By level 10 or so the difficulty picked up, and in the 30s I needed to grind for gold to continue on. Luckily due to letters being randomized at the beginning of each floor, grinding never felt like grinding. It was actually a lot of fun, and grinding for 30,000 gold often meant I’d have 100,000 or more by the time I was done. There’s a zen-like state of spelling that the timer creates, and after playing for a few hours I’d have random words appearing in my head all night long (fire, fires, fired, tire, tires, tired, red, dire, rife, fir, firs, etc). Also, while the game is single-player, you can very easily make it co-op. My gal is AWESOME at word games, so when things got tough she would throw countless words at me and I would spell ’em out, making quick work of all but the most dreadful of foes. Perhaps most fun of all, the game’s dictionary includes cuss words, and being able to hurl spells by spelling out words you shouldn’t say in mixed company never gets old!

 

 

The controls took some getting used to though. While the B button is typically used to backspace, in Spellspire the X button does the trick. The B button is instead used to pull up the last word you spelled, which comes in super handy for word chains in a short period of time! It was a bit annoying at first pulling up an entirely different word instead of backspacing once, but with some practice I became a spell-slinging pro!

The game also includes an infinite mode in which you’ll battle an unending horde of enemies, raking in gold and competing to progress as many meters as possible. Each floor of the dungeons holds five chalices, and each is obtained through completing three random objectives. These objectives include things like killing x enemies with palindromes, killing x enemies with words beginning with a specific letter, killing x enemies in a single run or collecting x gold total. Once all the objectives are complete you’ll get a bunch of bonus gold and a chalice; getting all five chalices allows you to descend further into the dungeons. Once it’s unlocked, this mode is amazing for grinding out gold and getting a great set of items to handle the harder levels, and just like the rest of the grinding it never gets old. However, there are a couple downsides to the mode. For one, your objectives don’t complete until after you’re defeated. This means that if you only needed one more palindrome kill, you’ll have to get your palindrome kill and then play until you find an enemy capable of killing you or just continue on without further objectives. This gets especially frustrating on easier floors where most of the enemies barely hurt you. The other downside is that because letters are randomized you aren’t guaranteed the ability to complete objectives. You may end up needing to kill 6 enemies with words that begin with O but then not even have an O available to you. Luckily this one is far easier to fix – if you pause the game you can easily and quickly restart your run, getting 10 new letters. Even if you need to do this multiple times it takes 30 seconds or less to get a workable letter lineup.

 


It’s rare that I get so much play time out of a single-player word game, and even now I still want to go back and play it some more. The allure of hurling words at enemies, upgrading my gear, seeing how far I can survive and unlocking the few remaining secrets is strong! That zen-like focus on rushing to find words is magical and indescribable, and the tension of using dozens of words and still needing more is addictive.

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