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Spirit Roots – beautiful but flawed platformer

Developer: FredBear Games LTD
Price: $5/£5
Size: 711 MB
Version: 2.1
Platform: iPhone & iPad

Spirit Roots

The developer of Spirit Roots clearly understands how to make a beautiful 2D platformer. But unfortunately, it hasn’t quite got the hang of the mechanical side of things.

In this old school side-scroller, you play the part of a stitched-together hero in a hodgepodge fantasy world. Developer FredBear claims that it was inspired by the movie Coraline, which might sound like a pretty ambitious reference point, but the world of Spirit Roots certainly isn’t lacking for whimsical charm or quirky appeal.

Levels are twisty, tall affairs

If anything, though, Spirit Roots reminded us of the recent Rayman games. There’s a similar mixture of detailed character art, depth-lending background and foreground elements, and cute floating collectibles that help guide your path.

It’s an inviting world to leap around in, whichever way you cut it. Unfortunately, while the look of the game suggests a top-notch product, its handling is decidedly second-rate.

Finding beans lets you grow trees to secret areas

Your character’s movement feels stilted and wooden, and there’s little flow to your leaping. You never quite feel that sense of mastery over or connection with your character, and the combat – a combination of sword swipes and ineffectual pop-gun shots – lacks punch.

This isn’t just a matter of feeling a little detached from the action, either. The game’s stiff feel makes it frustratingly tricky to play at times.

The collectibles are cute and Rayman-like

For example, hitting one of the early scarecrow-like enemies with your sword sends them recoiling a pace or two, at which point they’ll initiate a quick counter-attack. You’ll want to finish them off quickly, then, but hitting the attack button a second time doesn’t launch you forward quite as much as you might hope.

It’s all too easy to swipe away at nothing, receiving a pitchfork to the face for your troubles. As a result, you’ll find yourself overcompensating and getting in too close to your enemies – which will also see you taking a hit.

Taking hits from humble grunts happens all too often

This might not have been quite so irritating if not for a mystifyingly punitive lives system that sends you back to a checkpoint after a single hit. That checkpoint generally isn’t too far back, but that doesn’t stop it from becoming a growing source of frustration.

Throw in some uninspired level design and punishing gauntlet-like sections filled with spiky death traps and precariously placed enemies, and you end up with a 2D platformer that’s a lot more appealing to look at than it is to actually play.