Super Smash Bros. has been part of my life since I was four years old. In all those years, the closest it has come to being a roguelite was Smash Run for the 3DS version, which got stale pretty damn quick. Spiritfall takes inspiration from Smash but mixes in classic roguelite influences for something that’s more like a mix of Hades and beat ‘em ups than a straight Smash roguelite. A demo for Spiritfall is out now for Steam Next Fest, and trying it in preview, I got the sense the game is headed in the right direction.
Like in Hades, there are different gods you can receive blessings from, with each god representing a certain kind of buff. After each room is cleared, you get a buff, item, or currency and then enter a portal to the next room.
The controls are similar to in Smash: You can run, jump, attack, smash attack, and combine your attacks with directions for different results. Instead of a special button and a shield, you have a projectile with a cooldown, an assist attack on a cooldown that can be obtained from one of the divine blessings, and a dash that makes you briefly invulnerable, again on a cooldown.
You run around the arena, stringing together attacks to keep the enemies from attacking, and dash your way through their projectiles and armored attacks. Unlike in a lot of roguelites, most enemies seem to focus on projectiles, but there are larger armored enemies and also nimble jumping enemies that’ll hit you up close. The enemy variety in the demo’s first area isn’t that impressive, but the mix of enemies, the way they spawn, and the abilities you unlock on your run lend combat a decent amount of variety, especially for a demo.
There is a bit of an issue with some attacks being slower to finish than others — it means certain attacks are just better, because they’ll stop the enemies attacking you. I would end up using the three best attacks over and over instead of using my whole move set, which feels like a missed opportunity.
Rather than knocking enemies out of the arena to kill them, you deplete their health bars like in Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s Subspace Emissary, and knocking them away is optional. I found the smash attacks were best for crowd control, but they lock you in place while you charge. In a way it provides an interesting tension — a more powerful attack that’ll give you some space but is slow to execute — but it also felt sluggish and clunky.
There are a couple of different move sets attached to unlockable weapons. For the demo, two weapons were available, with a third teased, and they did feel meaningfully different. The slow hammer swings contrasted with the fast punch attacks of the gloves. However, I’m yet to see any benefit to the slower hammer, since it didn’t seem any stronger, and it was harder to control the enemies outside of the hammer’s few quick attacks.
There aren’t many ways to regenerate health in the current game, and minor mistakes compound into major run killers. More than once, I entered a room only able to take a single hit before death. That said, the difficulty of the game was satisfying. It didn’t feel like I was getting hit at random. I could have dodged and kept more health for the next room, and it made me want to improve.
In-between runs, you get a chance to permanently upgrade your weapon and abilities. The demo had a very limited selection of upgrades, but it was easy to see the potential for more. Permanent upgrade resources appeared regularly in my runs, and if there were more to spend them on it would have been satisfying to browse the upgrade list after each death.
Spiritfall’s blessings were diverse and interesting throughout the demo. Many blessings did predictable but fun things, like upping your damage and burning enemies, adding frost onto your dash, or calling down lighting to attack enemies, and the archetypes of each god were similar to Hades. But other blessings built upon the mechanics unique to a platform fighter — effects that trigger when you double jump, extra double jumps, higher damage when further from enemies, and bonuses for hitting lots of enemies at once encourage you to use the unique mechanics of a Smash-like game to their fullest.
As a long-time Smash player, a couple of irritants stuck out to me, like the inability to map multiple buttons to the same action and the right stick being useless instead of doing directional aerials like in Smash. There were also a few attacks that stuck me to the ground longer than I expected; I had to get used to waiting for them to finish before I jumped, or else my jump would get eaten and I’d stand there spamming the attack.
Overall, Spiritfall is shaping up to be a sharp mix of Hades-esque roguelite elements and Subspace Emissary Smash-esque platform fighting. Given the quality of what’s already there, the added variety and polish likely to come after the early access release in March could make this an excellent roguelite.