Spiritfarer is a 2D side-scrolling indie management sim developed and published by Thunder Lotus Games.
In it, you play Stella, a ferry master who takes over when Charon retires. She is tasked with helping spirits make their way to the underworld.
Throughout the game, you pick up spirits, get to know their stories, and manage an ever-expanding ferry. Along the way, you explore numerous islands, collect supplies, and play mini-games.
This was a game Vuk and I both really wanted to love. The previews made it look like a casual but heartwarming game about death and letting go. We went into it expecting it to combine the sweetness of casual gaming with bittersweet stories that would really make our hearts ache.
We thought we were getting into something along the lines of Lost Words: Beyond the Page.
Unfortunately, Spiritfarer failed to deliver those heart-tugging moments we were hoping for.
A Charming Facade
Vuk and I were initially attracted to Spiritfarer because of its gorgeous, hand-drawn 2D art style. And during our playthrough, the aesthetic appeal of the game continued to hold our attention.
I loved the fact that the artist chose to use soft pastel hues against the backdrop of death that came with this game. And when we would sail through storms and darkness would encroach, the contrast was stark, giving those moments a real gravitas. Effects, like lightning bolts striking the deck, were simple but effective, and added to the allure.
The music of Spiritfarer was equally appealing and served to highlight the overall ambiance of the game.
Characters Lacking… Character
Spiritfarer supposedly boasts 11 different characters that you can find, bring onto your ship, and help out. The goal is to uncover each character’s story, help them come to terms with their life, and eventually help them move on.
Candidly, Vuk and I never made it that far in the game. We discovered the first four or five characters — each of whom inexplicably knew Stella from when they were alive — but, for us, their personalities felt flat, and uncovering bits of their story never seemed to make them more interesting.
This was one of the most disappointing aspects of the game.
The goal, of course, was for you to become friends with each side character, and then for it to be difficult to say goodbye to them at the end of the game. This would have allowed you to feel sorrow alongside your character.
Unfortunately, the stories just never… mattered… that much. The characters were — at best — mediocre, and at worse, actively annoying (looking at you, Gwen). As a result, I never felt the impetus to finish their stories, and would have been more than content to let a few of them off at the entrance to the Spirit world…
…if only so I didn’t have to keep managing their needs.
Which brings us to…
Tamagotchi Redux… or Maybe More Like Neopets
The majority of the time we spent playing Spiritfarer, we were tasked with feeding our friends, giving them hugs, and building their houses.
There is no real consequence to not keeping your friends happy, but doing so occasionally leads them to provide you with supplies, like thread.
Unfortunately, the repetitiveness of these tasks was unrelenting… and a bit stupid. I can’t count the number of times Vuk groused, “Why are we feeding them? They’re supposed to be dead!”
It reminded me a bit of the days of Tamagotchi, when you would use tiny, mundane tasks to keep your tiny pets happy. But at least Tamagotchis would die if you neglected them for too long.
There was a certain level of tension there.
There’s no tension with Spiritfarer. Which, I guess, makes it more like Neopets.
But, like. Less fun.
Ho-Hum Mini Games
Before you accuse me of hating on casual games entirely, let’s be clear: I’m an avid Simmer, and I’ve played through my share of relaxing, casual games. I’m currently wending my way through Kynseed (amazing!) and I played the crap out of Stardew Valley when it came out.
The thing that really makes these types of games stand out is engaging mini-games and tasks that you really want to complete. Unfortunately, this is the area where Spiritfarer was most lacking. Most of its minigames were ho-hum at best.
The best games involved catching jellyfish as they shot by or catching lightning as it hit the ship. But both of these games just gave a ton of opportunities to collect what you needed, and made it impossible to collect all of the items, so they didn’t feel like games of skill so much as opportunities to swipe a handful of items out of an overflowing bucket. There was no challenge to them, and there was no sense of accomplishment, because you couldn’t really get better at it. There wasn’t even a high score list or anything to allow you to compete with yourself.
Most of the other minigames, including fishing and making cloth, involved pressing a button within a small window of opportunity.
There were a lot of things they could have done. They had a rhythm game built in, and could have done something cool with that, but instead they had just one song that you played on repeat.
So, we flitted from monotonous mini-game to monotonous mini-game, feeling neither an impetus to complete the games nor a sense of accomplishment when they were done.
Saying Goodbye Was Far Too Easy
In the end, Vuk and I chose not to finish Spiritfarer. Once it stopped being pretty, it was just… boring. Even the couch co-op experience, which often saves games for us, was just… meh.
I’m giving this game a lackluster 4/10. I know it’s gotten a lot of rave reviews for being a good casual game, and maybe we’re just missing something, but I genuinely didn’t enjoy this title.
It was pretty. There was nothing wrong with it on a technical level.
But it wasn’t fun. And, at the end of the day, games are supposed to be fun.