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IndieCade 2010: Spirits preview

This past weekend at IndieCade 2010 in Los Angeles, I bumped into our old buddy Steph Thirion. He's the creator of the great Eliss iPhone app and a title that he's still working on called Faraway, which despite still being in development, was actually chosen as an IndieCade finalist this year. He introduced me to a developer named Marek Plichta, whose German company, Spaces of Play, was showing off another iPhone finalist called Spirits. I asked for a quick demo and got to check out the game in progress.

Spirits will instantly be intriguing to anyone who's a fan of the old Lemmings title (which hasn't officially made it to the App Store yet, though there are a few games like it). Spirits' basic gameplay is the same as Lemmings'. A set of creatures slowly enters an environment, and it's your job to guide those creatures (or at least some number of them) to an exit by using certain abilities that they have. Where Spirits really innovates is in its look and feel. Rather than little cartoony, pixelated creatures, you feel like you're controlling beautiful little beings. When the wind physics start to do their thing, the experience is pretty magical.

Your little spirits can do the obvious stuff, like make ramps and dig holes in the environment. But the wind is what really makes the game. Whenever they jump off of a cliff and there happens to be a breeze around (portrayed by some well-done particle displays), the spirits will drift off with the wind. Sometimes that takes them towards the exit, and sometimes that carries them off into spikes. Eventually, you've got to not only control the natural wind but also create your own sometimes by turning one of the creatures into a wind generator.

That leads to more advanced puzzles. At one point, a narrow strip of ground blocked a wind that was blowing upward toward the exit, so I had to use one of the spirits to dig into the ground and create a path for the breeze to blow through. That wind pushed me upwards too hard, though, so I had to also place a little guy on the side in order to blow a third guy across the gap and into the exit. Some levels have you saving all of the spirits, while some require using quite a few and maybe only saving one or two characters total.

In each level, there are also three flowers to find, and these can be "activated" by either walking over them or by tapping on a spirit as it goes by, which drops a little energy sprite on the flower. Lighting up all of the flowers is optional the first time around, but they then present a tougher challenge if you want to go back and replay the levels.

There will be 40 stages in the game at launch, and some of them show off Spaces Of Play's gaming pedigree, with level names that reference Cave Story and Earthbound. That will be the only game mode available, though; there's no multiplayer or leaderboards in the game at launch. I asked Plichta why that was, and he told me that the devs wanted to make sure that the "gameplay stayed true to our ideas." The plan for Spirits is solely as a relaxing, play by yourself experience, not a competitive or connected interaction.

The iPad version will come out first, "probably in November" according to Plichta, and the iPhone version will come soon after that. There's no word yet on how it'll be priced, but as you can see, it's a gorgeous game with terrific graphics, great music, and a lot of replayability despite the somewhat limited scope. Spirits will definitely be one to watch for in the next month or so.