Thunder Lotus follows up Jotun and Sundered with something more relaxing and unflappably beautiful.
Spiritfarer dazzled me at PAX East 2020 with its gorgeous visuals and serene gameplay loop. Developer Thunder Lotus Games calls it a “cozy management sim about dying.” “Cozy” was definitely a word that coursed through my mind as I played a demo alongside Art Director Jo Gauthier. You play as Stella, a girl who guides a boat around the world, collecting and befriending spirits to help deliver them to the afterlife. A second player can jump in and play as Daffodil the cat, who is more an accent than a main character but provides a cute co-op entrypoint. Your tasks involve guiding the boat around the ocean, engaging with spirits, and then completing their quests to help them move on.
The segment I experienced placed me a little bit further into the game. My boat already had a few residents, living in houses I presumably gathered materials to craft. In turn, these residents taught me something as well, be it the ability to farm, saw logs, or create wool. There’s something of an ecosystem that you create on your boat, as you position the new arrivals’ lodging to essentially make a spiritual cruise ship. Gauthier told me that residents will eventually pass on to the afterlife when their stories are done, though their houses will remain. It appears that by the close of Spiritfarer, your boat will be a platforming marvel.
I traveled to a new island where I encountered a spirit who described their dream house to me. That triggered a blueprint for the house that I then looked at when I returned to my ship. To complete the quest, I had to gather raw materials at another island and then go to the ship and craft the necessary items, completing mini-games to saw logs, loom wool, and refine ore. After making the spirit’s house, she joined my boat, kicking off her stay on the boat in earnest and concluding my demo.
There’s a bit of mundanity that followed Spiritfarer around. Writing up the preceding paragraphs made me realize it almost sounds boring on paper, but in practice, Spiritfarer is wondrous. The hand-drawn animation just pops, with vibrant vistas and characters filled with understated personality. Hopping around the world is delightful, as Stella’s movement has a nice cadence to it. In the demo, I had access to a double jump and a glide that had a nice bounce and flair. Those won’t be abilities granted right at the start; Stella’s abilities will grow as she steers her ship and picks up spirits.
I was impressed by Spiritfarer when I first saw it announced at E3 2019, but playing a snippet solidified my intrigue in this relaxing and warm experience. I want the playfulness of these graphics in my life. I want the contrasting stories of death and acceptance. I want the visually splendid ride collecting materials and enriching the lives of lost spirits. I want Spiritfarer, whenever it launches in 2020.