Easily one of the strangest mobile games available, Phoenix Spirit from Spearhead Entertainment casts you in the role of a heroic sea otter or squirrel (it’s not clear) named Phoenix and challenges you to heal the underwater forest. The Mother Tree is afflicted by a mysterious disease and you’ll need to cure the fauna and destroy a number of enemies as you explore the vast map. You’ll develop new powers and find pick ups as you go.
Phoenix Spirit combines elements of shooter, RPG and platformer with a unique control system. It’s nothing if not different.
Backstory (3 out of 5)
The Mother Tree is ill and you have to develop powers of healing to begin cleaning up your dingy underwater world. There are snippets of text at the start and at various save points which advance the rather bizarre story. The text is a little awkward and could probably use further localization but it’s a nice enough premise.
Controls (4 out of 5)
The first thing you’ll need to contend with is the odd control system in Phoenix Spirit. It uses the accelerometer combined with touchscreen controls so you tilt the phone to move around but you’ll also need to hit the dive button to build up speed. If you land on any surface you’ll get the option to use the jump button to push yourself off. You also develop various healing powers as you go so that you can fire at plants to heal them, break through to new areas or destroy enemies such as mean puffer fish who are swimming around intent on taking a bite out of you.
Intuitive is not really the best description. This control setup takes some getting used to and the fact that you have to dive in order to build speed can make it very tricky to avoid enemies. If you persist that initial frustration will give way to fluid gameplay and you’ll get used to using the calibrate button at the bottom of the screen to realign yourself before pushing off back into the depths. It is still a bit too easy to get stuck on walls when you don’t really want to and the combat experience against some of the tougher enemies is less than enjoyable.
Gameplay (4 out of 5)
Phoenix Spirit is an odd blend of exploration and shooter with some platform style gaming thrown in. It is quite satisfying to reveal the map which is displayed at the top right and the act of tilting your phone to swim around and diving to build up speed works quite well. Once you’ve mastered the controls the exploration gameplay is quite fun. Where the gameplay falls down is in the combat. The healing power you fire by tapping an onscreen button is tough to control, thankfully you do get a red target on enemies so you can tell when you are going to hit them but some of them take a lot of shooting so it’s not entirely clear what you can and can’t heal or kill.
Since it is side scrolling there are frequently sections where you’ll really need to glide in and die in order to figure out where the next challenge is coming from. Trying to despatch the tougher enemies is a slog and not much fun.
Graphics and Sound (4 out of 5)
The game is quite attractive with a cartoon style, underwater world which feels like it has some depth to it. There are some nice visual effects for your powers and elements of the environment which look quite pretty. Some sections of the map are pretty dull though and the textures can look a bit grubby.
The sound is one of the high points of Phoenix Spirit. The music is gentle and captivating and it encourages the exploration side of the game though it does seem at odds with the combat. There are also a few sound effects to provide feedback in combat and they serve their purpose.
The Verdict (4 out of 5)
Phoenix Spirit is currently $0.99 in iTunes and $1.99 in Android Market. There is no doubt the scale of the game and the work that has gone into it justifies that price tag. It is an interesting and different title and it stands out from the crowd because of that. With a bit more polish for the control system it could be really excellent but as it stands many people will find the combat frustrating.
If you want something unique then give Phoenix Spirit a try.