LIGHTNING BOLT! LIGHTNING BOLT! LIGHTENING BOLT! So yelled the LARP player in the now infamous video as they threw balls of tinfoil at a person pretending to be an ogre.
Spirit Hunters Inc Light/Shadow (SH) brought back memories of that video as I blasted mythical spirits using my 3DS's built in camera using spells that had me throwing all kinds of pyrotechnics at my surroundings.
In SH the player takes on the role of a fledgling Spirit Hunter who has been employed by Spirit Hunters Inc to track down and defeat these invisible spirits that have been popping in and out of our reality from the year 'dot'. No one knows why they have doing this and what they really are, hence the creation of SHI. It is now up to you, dear DSi/3DS owner to assist SHI in its quest to hunt down these spirits and answer these seemingly un-answerable questions about these invisible beasties.
SH is an ARG (Augmented Reality Game) that doesn't require you to move your DSi/3DS console about too much and nor does it need the player to use additional paraphernalia such as cards. In fact it discourages you from swinging about your console as the game needs to collect the colour data that is being fed into the camera.
This data, along with the time of day and year the game is played in determines what 'spirit' appears. These spirits can then be 'tapped' using the console's touch screen and stylus, at which point real time combat begins. The reliance of the camera means that SH only works on DSi and 3DS consoles.
The game's structure is not too dissimilar to an MMO. The player starts off as a level 1 spirit hunter that is aligned to one of the six elements of magic: Fire, Ice, Water, Light, Shadow & Fungus. Each of these elements are stronger against some while weak against others. For example Fire is weak against water but strong against Fungus.
When a player takes on a spirit of an opposing element that is strong against their attacks, the resulting combat will become protracted and closely fought. Whereas, attacking a weaker spirit of an alignment that cannot withstand the player's attacks can take seconds! The caveat to that is more experience is rewarded to the player when they take on spirits that are tough to beat, while the opposite is true for the weaker spirits.
As the player gains experience they also earn in-game currency. This currency is used to buy more spells as they become available, as well as food items for restoring health and providing resistance to certain attacks.
There are also traps available that let the player trap spirits rather than kill them outright. This doesn't earn them much in the way of experience, but it does grant them a significant amount of cash. This creates a means by which players can gather money in order to pay for the additional abilities they are needing to take on the more powerful spirits.
This lets them level up even further and progress to the level cap of 100. This is no mean feat since, as with MMOs, reaching the level cap is a time-consuming process and the rate of advancement reduces significantly the closer that cap is becomes.
The spirits themselves come in 16 different families with over 90 being included in the game. They can be caught at any time of day using the console's built-in camera. SH uses the spectrum of light being fed into the camera to determine what are the most likely spirits that are around that player at that time. If there are more reds then it is likely a Fire aligned spirit will appear. Spirits drift in from the left and right of the touch screen and the player must touch them using the stylus. Once this is done combat begins, which entails the player firing off spells at the spirit in order to bring its health to zero and thus exhaust it or to weaken it to the point of capture using a trap.
The firing of spells is very similar to MMOs, in that the player has a line of icons at the base of the touch screen, which are touched to fire. All of the spells have cooling-off periods of varying lengths, typically depending on their potency. The consumption of food also has a cooling off, which prevents the player from pumping food to become immune from attacks.
The interaction with the player's surroundings is minimal at best as there is no need to swing the console about to gain certain colours, unless the player is seeking certain alignments of spirits. This removes the 'embarrassment factor' so many ARG titles suffer from as you point your console's camera at fellow commuters on the tube. With SH you can gleefully pump fireballs into someone's face and they don't have a clue that you're doing such a thing.
I can't honestly remember the last time I had this much fun playing a game on my 3DS. SH is a highly inventive and deeply compulsive game to play. It tweaks my old MMO nerves very well without having to deal with all of the other aspects of those games that forced me to leave them behind.
The way it uses the player's surroundings, both in terms of colours and time, is ingenious and something that should be lauded. Australian developers Nnooo have done an excellent job of utilising the DSi/3DS camera without making the player feel like an idiot.
There is a great deal to this game that I haven't covered for fear of spoiling it. The player challenges, for example, are something that I'd like you to discover for yourself as they are a neat little way putting up spirits you found difficult for your friends to take on. While the game doesn't boast a direct online multiplayer aspect, this player challenge system does much to encourage a form of social interaction with other players. It even unlocks certain elements of the game, especially if one player has the light version, while the other is shadow.
SH does skew young in its presentation, but that shouldn't put of players of any age. Nnooo have created an amazing game that has appeared on DSiWare and the eShop with little to no fanfare, which is a terrible shame as it deserves to be placed on a pedestal alongside some of the best indie titles out there. So go on, do yourself a favour and dip into the world of SH, you may even come up against a certain Fungus spirit that takes great delight in giving me a good kicking, time and time again.
+ Great use of AR without embarrassing camera swinging
+ Uses MMO tropes without getting bogged down in them
- Cartoonish presentation may be off-putting to some