Of all the re-releases at the launch of next-gen, this is one game I never would have expected to see.
Appearing this time last year, Spirit of the North is a beautiful adventure of exploration across mysterious and stunning landscapes. As it’s also one that kind of slipped under the radar just a little bit, perhaps that explains it’s re-emergence.
You start the game as a red fox, intrepidly pawing its way through deeply entrenched snow along gorgeous, high-peaked mountains, but your journey soon sees you encounter a spiritual blue fox, believed to be the guardian of the Northern Lights.
As your journey continues, you eventually infuse the powers of the guardian fox into yourself and soon find you can achieve amazing feats like soaring through the skies, and restoring lost spirits to their owners.
When the game first launched, it was still quite a sight to behold, though the colour palette was a bit on the dull side and seemed quite washed out. Which is where this new Enhanced Edition – currently only on PS5 – comes into the fray.
Merge Games have published this next-gen upgrade, fully restoring the game to make it more breathtaking than ever. In 4K, this already beautiful world becomes truly mesmerising. You can see even more detail in the foxes fur as it blows in the wind, and wince your eyes looking at the dazzling Northern Lights.
The water flows more naturally and is clearer than it’s ever been. The detail in the rocky outcrops is so featuresome I kept thinking I could latch onto them to make my up the mountains. It’s the one time where the visual aesthetic of a game is so good that it kept tricking me into thinking the game itself could keep up.
And that’s the key thing to remember, that just because this is dubbed Enhanced Edition, the game itself is exactly the same, save of course for the improved textures, smoother 60FPS and 4K Resolution. The only new content is some platform-exclusive skins.
As lovely as the game is and as nice as it is to re-release a product that a lot of people may have missed the first time around, you can’t help feeling that this has all been done so that Merge Games can get that Signature Edition out the door and have the rights to say they had the first collectable indie physical PS5 release. Congratulations to them, I guess.
Because of that, it makes it even more disappointing that the game isn’t available as a free digital upgrade for existing owners. If you look at other re-releases on next gen, like Observer and Overcooked, both games are not just offering improved graphics, but they’re also giving us new content, which helps justify the new price tag.
As lovely as Spirit of the North is, with it’s peaceful, relaxing puzzle solving, and it’s deeply moving and enchanting musical score, we are essentially replaying the same game again a full year later and paying for the privilege. Which is why it makes most sense to pick up the physical signature edition of the game. At least, then, you’re getting something new and tangible for it, like an art book and OST.
None of this is meant to undersell the quality of the game itself – though Spirit of the North is an extremely slow-starter for a game that only runs about five hours. It smartly introduces new mechanics into its beautifully realised world, and it provides just enough messaging for the player to interpret their own meaning in its messaging – though never quite to the same degree as you’ll find in games like Journey.
That said, you’ll often find yourself quite aimless while playing. I was constantly re-treading old ground accidentally before I knew how to run – something the game doesn’t tell you how to do until after you’ve gone through a long, tedious walk through the snow. There’s also occasions where the game slows you down even more to look at certain scenes and wall paintings, dragging you through a scene that gave me flashbacks to Metal Gear Solid 4’s ending, only right at the beginning of a game.
The pacing of the game really misses a beat, to be honest, and as lovely as it is to admire the world and look around, you’ll soon find yourself becoming quite restless and wanting to move on.
It doesn’t really make much use of the DualSense controller either, save for some light changes and a brief bit of haptic feedback. There does seem to be a hint that PS5’s activity cards can be used in the game, but they don’t really work to the same effect as other PS5 titles and simply launch the game for you, rather than direct you to the area it’s signposting. So, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of reason for it being PS5 exclusive either.
Basically, for those who haven’t played Spirit of the North before, this is absolutely the version to play. It’s truly, a very beautiful game with a memorable, delightful musical score. For the most part, Spirit of the North is also a nice puzzler with about the right level of difficulty, full of some truly heartwarming moments. I actually spent a lot of time putting the controller down just to watch the cute fox sleep. Absolutely adorable.
Aside from the graphical upgrades, there’s not much else new to find here. If you’re hoping for great use of PS5’s unique UI and controller, this is absolutely not a showcase title for that. But if you’re interested in a PS5 game on the cheaper end of the scale that will leave you with some lasting memories, Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition will certainly tug those heartstrings, occasionally tax the gray matter, and even give you a few reasons to smile.
+ A very beautiful game in 4K
+ Stunning soundtrack
+ A refreshing change of pace from other next-gen titles
– No content differences from the original release and no free upgrade path from PS4
– Doesn’t make much use of PS5 specific features
– Pacing of the game all feels a bit off.
– Pre-existing issues remain unaddressed
Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition is now available on PS5.
Tested on PlayStation 5
Code kindly provided by Merge Games