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Preview: Spirittea

9 Jul 2022

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you added ghosts to a game like Stardew Valley? More specifically, if you used a backdrop like the one found in the movie Spirited Away (the whole bathhouse for ghosts part) and coupled it with typical life sim elements? This just about sums up Spirittea, a new simulator being developed by Cheesemaster Games and published by No More Robots. 

Spirittea‘s story begins in a similar manner to others in the genre. You (a customizable character) are a new city slicker who is looking to move to the countryside. The morning following your arrival, the town’s “leader,” Miko, asks you to track down some tea leaves from a townsperson named Tifa. Tifa encourages you to make tea and after drinking the concoction you gain the power to see ghosts.

Unfortunately, the very first ghost you encounter is a bossy cat named Wonyan who shares his worries about the state of the supernatural world. Wonyan’s solution is to have you run the town’s bathhouse, as this landmark is a place of relaxation for ghosts, and bathing there decreases the chances of them becoming evil spirits.

Aside from Wonyan’s request, the demo doesn’t give you much else to work with in terms of story. The NPCs are self-aware here; after one introductory line of dialogue they tell you there isn’t much more they can do for you as this is a demo, and most of the town’s activities (like the stores and action spots) are unplayable due to the limited build.

Despite the limitations, I predict that the story will be interesting due to its unique nature. Not only will your life in “Cloudy” town (that’s what I named my town) be filled with supernatural creatures and regular people alike, but Cheesemaster Games appears to be taking a humorous approach to the way their work presents itself. 

Unfortunately, Spirittea’s gameplay is not as unique as its story premise. The bulk of it has you switching back and forth between the ‘J’ and ‘K’ keys on your keyboard to complete in-game actions. While there is a lot to do, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before from the genre.

The good news is that while the gameplay format isn’t special, the presentation of the tasks you need to complete is. The things Wonyan asks you to do (chop wood from a magical tree to keep the bathhouse warm, wash towels for the ghostly guests, etc) aren’t the typical tasks you’d find in regular life simulators, so it really gives off the impression that you’re doing something new and fresh.

Aside from managing your bathhouse, Spirittea‘s gameplay only has one more ask: time management. It comes in the form of a tracker for the bathhouse temperature which you must check periodically, as well as a pairing system for the ghosts that you must learn over time to ensure a smooth bathing experience. However, I have to point out that these two things felt so insignificant during the playthrough that I don’t really consider them worth worrying about.

The last thing I’d like to mention about this game is that it can feel a little clunky to play at times. I don’t know why the ‘K’ key was the confirmation button out of everything they could have chosen, but it was not that intuitive of a button to press when trying to run around. Perhaps it won’t be such a problem when we have the ability to set our own keybindings, but I personally did not like it.

Visually, I feel like Spirittea still needs some work. It’s a little grainy, even for a pixelated game, and the chosen text font does not help its cause. Despite that, I found the visuals and presentation charming. The character designs are unique (at least their portraits are, I can’t say the same for the sprites) and the town itself has plenty of detail.

I liked the contrast between the buildings as well. For example, the east side of the map leads you to the bathhouse and an old shrine, while the center hosts things like a convenience store and an outdoor ramen shop. It makes the small map feel like it’s full of things to do, even if the town itself is not that big. Perhaps the final product will look more polished. In terms of audio, there were really only two tracks in the demo from what I could tell. I enjoyed them, though I have to say that they felt a little too upbeat for the setting. Still, it wasn’t so bad that I found myself turning the sound off. 

Even though I couldn’t have played more than an hour of this game, I have to admit that I’m intrigued by it. If I’m being honest, I have been feeling a bit underwhelmed by life simulators lately, so the take of running a bathhouse instead of a farm and throwing in ghosts feels like a nice change of pace for me. I can’t wait to see whether this concept is developed properly or not.

Spirittea doesn’t have an official release date but it will be coming soon to the Nintendo Switch and Steam. If you’re curious about what it’s like to run a bathhouse for ghosts, check out the demo available now on PC!

Preview build provided by Cheesemaster Games for PC. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Cheesemaster Games.