Spirit Hunters: Infinite Horde is a 2D action rogue-lite game developed and published by Creature Cauldron. Spirit Hunters’ developers seem to have been inspired or intrigued by the success of late 2021 release Vampire Survivors, so much so that they decided to give it their own go.
When I was sent this game for reviewing, it was a very nice coincidence that I had only very recently purchased and played Vampire Survivors, and I had enjoyed Vampire Survivors a lot! As I saw the mostly positive reviews on Steam, I felt that I would once again enjoy my time with this already tried and tested formula. However, I was left disappointed after about 2 hours and hopeless by the 5th. In this review I will be taking a close look at why Spirit Hunters isn’t fun despite being very similar to Vampire Survivors, both by looking at it as a standalone game and comparing it to Vampire Survivors.
Weapons and Abilities
When you start a “run” both in Spirit Hunters your only inputs consist of moving around the map and picking new abilities or existing ability upgrades whenever you level up. The rest of the combat is basically idle and automatic. While Vampire Survivors solves this limited intractability by making the choices meaningful, in Spirit Hunters the upgrades you choose are boring and meaningless. General choices offered are, +1 Damage, +10% range, +20% speed etc. All the upgrades you take feel the same, and this stagnates player’s feeling of progress. Nothing changes when you upgrade an ability to +5 or +15. But this isn’t even the biggest mistake Spirit Hunters makes. The real reason playing around with weapons in Vampire Survivors is much more fun than Spirit Hunters is simple, SYNERGY.
What is Synergy?
In Vampire Survivors, each weapon you pick up has a chance to synergise with other weapons and items, resulting in a new upgraded version of the weapon. This is called evolution. There are so many impacts resulting from this simple decision to introduce evolutions into the gameplay. Let me list some of them; each run is different and exciting, players get to experiment with different combinations, the anticipation of levelling up your weapon to max and finding out a new evolution, different builds where each of them is viable. Spirit Hunters loses so much because none of the items and abilities in the game synergize with each other. Each run feels the same and there is no room for experimentation.
Now let’s look at the weapons/abilities themselves and how they feel to play. Firstly, in my opinion almost none of the weapons and abilities feel good or useful maybe with one or two exceptions. I would like to explain this point of view with an example. There are a few abilities in the game where you need to aim them by looking at a direction. However, while enemies come from all directions player character sprite can only turn at left or right, making it very hard to aim upwards or downwards, let alone the diagonal sides.
There are other reasons why the gameplay feels stale and restrictive however I will be mentioning those on the Progression part of this review.
At the end of the run you get to bring over the upgrade materials you collected within the run to the Oracle. Here you can unlock new abilities, characters, maps, and permanently upgrade your character and weapons. There are a lot of things wrong with the progression system in this game, let us look at them one at a time.
The biggest problem comes from the grind. The prices for these unlocks are too expensive once you pass the early game. After a while It takes multiple runs to unlock a single stat upgrade for a single weapon. This expensiveness problem becomes even more unbearable when unlocking new abilities.
Another big issue with the progression system stems for not being able to plan or reset. You can’t see the upgrades and unlocks before unlocking the node before it. So, you basically never know what you’re building towards until you unlock it. There’s also the problem of not being able to try out new abilities/weapons before unlocking them. So, if you were to unlock a new ability and not like it, too bad you’re stuck with that ability in your pool forever since you can’t reset your skill tree.,
Spirit Hunters has the extra addition of “Pets” which can be found on the map after unlocking them from the progression menu. In a game where variety is hard to come by, pets are a nice addition. While most of them end up being boring stat upgrades again some of them are unique and different.
Unlocking new weapons should’ve been passive as you play the game. Without this there is no feel of progression after completing runs other than making your upgrade material amount go up.
Enemies and Bosses
There really isn’t too much to be said about enemies or bosses. There is some enemy variety to be found but, after a you’ve killed a few different types of enemies you realize that most of them work the same. Unfortunately, this applies for the bosses as well, even the end of level bosses work almost exactly same. I’ll refrain from adding more to this to prevent spoilers.
There are couple of problems in the technical side but none of them are game breaking. The game runs smoothly and glitches don’t happen too often. This is pretty good considering the game is on early access.
The characters and enemies have no animations, they are just sprites floating around. Honestly these problems can be fixed in the future this is an early access game after all.
The hitboxes on some of the characters and enemies are weird. Sometimes you feel like you should’ve hit that but you don’t. And other times your character doesn’t take damage when they should have. I’ve seen enemies go through walls a couple of times as well.
The sprites and the environments are colorful and pretty. Sound effects are fine, and music is nothing special.