It's human nature to follow what's in front of you.
Take my recent driving test, in which I almost managed to balls up a junction I because I was following the red Toyota in front. I knew that I shouldn’t, but my mind latched onto it. Unfortunately, the driver had a penchant for running lights.
In any case, it’s much easier to follow another person or vehicle than it is to strike out on your own, which makes Spirits admirable for its effort to veer from the path Lemmings had so well trodden.
As with DMA Design’s classic puzzler, the idea behind Spirits is to save as many of your little followers in each level as possible. You do this by assigning each a task or job in order to help out the others to make their way to the exit.
Creating a path to the exit is made tricky by the presence of pitfalls, spikes, and wind currents that can blow your leafy little creatures off-course should they leap into the air. And leap they shall, for unlike the mindless lemming these imaginary creatures at least make an attempt not to fall to a grizzly death.
The look and feel is brilliantly consistent with the game's central theme. Levels are drawn with deep blacks and dark primary colours, with shadows of trees and branches leaning out of the foggy background like ghosts.
Along with this unique style is an equally appealing shift in gameplay. Rather than focusing on pitfalls, here you more often have to prevent your leaf-like spirits from leaping into a gust of wind that could sweep them into game-killing spikes. As such, this makes the game more horizontal and therefore distinct from other Lemmings clones.
The trick comes in manipulating the environment. Sacrificing a spirit to create a vine, for instance, allows the spirits that follow to leap higher and farther along into the current. In turn, this enables them to take up a more useful position or bypass more obstacles.
There are four such powers, introduced at a steady rate. Along with the ability to create vines, you can tunnel through the ground, generate gusts of wind, and construct miniature bridges using leaves.
The added screen space on iPad makes it the preferred device, although it's perfectly playable on iPhone and iPod touch, where you can scroll through each level with swipes of the screen.
The game is fairly lenient with progression – only a certain number of creatures needs to be saved in each level and more than one level is unlocked at any given time – but the difficulty does ramp up at a consistent rate, with new obstacles and powers introduced regularly
The most frustrating feature of the game is the inability to prevent your creatures from marching forward. Without a way of holding back the leaves, it’s common to have to reset a level due to an accidental press of the screen or mistaken move.
Incorporating a block ability to hold your creatures from advancing past a particular point would prevent these sort of unjust level failures.
Also curious is the decision to forgo integration with Game Center or another social gaming network. The game uses its own online ranking system, but it's not clearly defined or particularly valuable.
They're minor blemishes, though, on a tricky and beautiful puzzle game. While it owes a debt to Lemmings, Spirits steers in a different direction with its leaf-like gameplay and doesn’t follow the green-haired creatures off the same cliff.