Spellspire for Xbox One review: A challenging word game with a tower to climb and monsters to battle
Word games aren't common on Xbox One, making the release of Spellspire from Finland-based indie studio 10tons all the more special.
You play as a wizard and climb a 100-floor tower, battling enemies by spelling words and stopping to buy upgrades along the way. But will the prize at the top be worth your efforts?
100 floors of spelling fun
Spellspire is quite similar to the fantastic Letter Quest Remastered from Digerati, only with a seemingly smaller budget and less polish. That game had a very basic story, and this one has even less of one.
As you start out, your tiny wizard enters a 100-floor tower known as the Spellspire. That's the whole story! Luckily, the actual gameplay and upgrade mechanics are likely to keep word game aficionados entertained all the way until floor 100, but a few cinematics here and there wouldn't have hurt.
Each floor of the tower consists of battles against one or more enemies. Your wizard fights them by spelling words, but the word battle mechanics differ significantly from Letter Quest's.
For starters, letters don't appear to have different damage values based on rarity. That means no bonus damage for using K, W, or Y (I haven't seen Q, X, or Z come up at all). Instead, damage is mainly determined by the number of letters used in the word, calculated against your wizard's equipment and base attack stats.
The field of letters here is much smaller, as well: you get ten letters to work with instead of fifteen. And more challengingly, the letters don't refresh after use. You can't use the same word twice in one level, so the goal is to spell as many different words as possible with the same set of ten letters. Remembering which words you've used can be a little tough – the only indication is the game won't let you submit a word more than once.
This emphasis on finding lots of words from a fixed pool of 10 letters gives Spellspire a unique feel. You basically have to make as many small words as possible, conjugating and pluralizing them to find new words. When the tougher enemies come out, you'll probably scramble to find longer words since the short ones will have been used up. The static field of letters isn't necessarily worse than Letter Quest's battle system, but I wish we had 15 letters to work with here.
Making things a little easier, enemies often drop items like health potions, dictionaries that automatically spell the longest possible word, shields, or scrolls that cast attack spells. Our wizard (who I like to imagine is named "Spell-unky") can only carry one item at the start, but the shop sells additional inventory slots. I mostly sell the item drops after completing floors, as they provide a handy source of additional funds.
Between floors, your wizard can visit the floating shop to sell consumables and buy equipment. He can purchase the following upgrades:
- Wands — These increase your attack stat and provide various effects like burning, freezing, and poison.
- Robes — These boost your health stat and provide effects like increased item drops and immunity to status conditions.
- Hats — These boost health and damage, as well as provide effects like increased gold drops and evasion.
- Attack — These upgrade your base attack stat. This is useful since you retain the boost even when switching wands.
- Health — These upgrade your base health stat. The more health you have, the more attacks you can survive during a floor.
Each of those items can also be upgraded multiple times. Part of the strategy is knowing when to save your money for future equipment rather than just fully upgrade everything as you unlock it. If you max out the starting equipment, for instance, you'll waste gold that could've gone towards better gear down the line.
Naturally, you can revisit floors to earn more money. Each floor also has a star that can only be acquired upon revisiting it. These require you to beat the level without taking a hit, so it might take a few tries to get the star. Stars have a practical application, in that you'll unlock new gear to purchase upon reaching star milestones.
Achievements and the post-game dungeon
The Xbox One version of Spellspire has 22 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Four of these involve spelling longer words and can easily be cheated with a guide or solver website. There are 10 Achievements for beating the boss on every tenth floor, as well as one for earning all 100 stars. Three involve buying and upgrading equipment.
The remaining five Achievements involve the dungeon, Spellspire's postgame content. After reaching the top of the spire, you'll gain access to the dungeon, which contains another 100 floors to conquer! The downside is each floor now has multiple objectives that must be completed to progress, making them dramatically harder than the base game.
Just as 10tons' Crimsonland got too hard at times (especially for Achievement hunters), Spellspire's dungeon crosses the line between fun and frustrating. You're only missing out on five Achievements if you don't bother with it, but I wish the developers had realized that games like this don't usually benefit from extreme difficulty.
Spellspire isn't quite as good as Letter Quest Remastered. The latter offers more variety, better art, and an easier, more entertaining battle system.
Still, this one is a quality word game, with 100 floors of word battles on the way up and an extra challenging 100 subterranean floors to contend with after that. The upgrade system adds some depth and helps maintain interest along the way. While Letter Quest looks a little nicer, Spellspire's music is actually a lot better and more appropriate for this style of game.
Given the scarcity of word games in general, players who enjoy spelling and finding words in general are bound to get their money's worth from Spellspire. Spellspire costs $9.99 and is currently enjoying a launch price of 15 percent off. Buy this game and let it cast its spell on you!
- Spell words to battle fantasy foes.
- The upgrade system makes strengthening your character enjoyable.
- Better music than Letter Quest's.
- Finding words among a static field of 10 letters can be overly challenging at times.
- The post-game dungeon gets frustrating.
- Could've used a little more story to keep things moving.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.
Get the Windows Central Newsletter
All the latest news, reviews, and guides for Windows and Xbox diehards.
Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!