Zelda Meets Tennis
Camelot’s Mario Tennis series revealed how fun tennis could be in the wacky Mushroom Kingdom. But what if the sport expanded into The Legend of Zelda universe? Developer Eendhoorn and publisher Fabraz’s SpiritSphere DX seeks to answer that question, gathering characters inspired by the Zelda series to play a fantasy ball game.
Here’s my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!
Although billed as a tennis experience, SpiritSphere also resembles air hockey or Pong. Two players stand on opposing sides of a court while a SpiritSphere, an orb-like ball, lies in the middle. When hit, the ball bounces on the walls, much like an air hockey puck, until a player strikes it again. Your objective is to hit the sphere into your opponent’s goal to score points while defending your own goal line. The catch is that instead of tennis rackets, you wield weapons to smash the ball. If you’ve played Zelda, think of SpiritSphere like one of those boss fights where you have to volley magical blasts with your sword.
The Zelda comparison doesn’t end there. The eight original characters derive heavy inspiration from the series, such as the sword-wielding girl with elvish ears named Lin, the flute-playing woodland creature wearing a skull mask, and the magical hooded monster who—let’s face it—is essentially a Wizzrobe. What truly makes the characters special are their diverse playstyles. Technically, each character only has three moves: a standard strike, a charged attack, and a dash tackle, all of which you can use to curve the ball as needed. But how each character executes them is completely different and charming. The elvish girl performs a spin attack with her sword, the woodland creature commands animals to strike the ball for him, and the wizard utilizes magic both in front and at his sides. Every unique ability adds a satisfying layer of strategy to the already solid gameplay core, and somehow, it all remains balanced. For instance, the dwarf is slow but can throw a powerful axe in any direction, whereas the fast go-kart riding fox has trouble controlling his vehicle.
Adding to the game’s depth, the spheres themselves exhibit varying properties, such as different sizes or speeds, and special abilities, like turning invisible or producing clones when hit. The stages make just as strong an impression. Every court features cleverly themed obstacles and layouts that affect the ball’s trajectory. For example, in the dungeon court, you can press switches to lower the wall blocking the goal, and in the volcano, fire pillars periodically rise up to bounce the ball away. Even the forest stage has grass that, you guessed it, your characters can cut down for helpful items like bombs and arrows to unleash on your opponent.
Best of all, the courts are visually pleasing, a compliment that extends to the wonderful character sprites and anime style artwork. The retro graphics sport a lovingly modernized Game Boy Color flair, specifically resembling The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (one of my favorites!). And the catchy fantasy chiptunes perfectly fit the game’s medieval tone.
Naturally, SpiritSphere shines most in multiplayer. The fast-paced volley gameplay lends itself to heated matches, even more so with four people in either doubles or a two vs. one boss mode. The game supports Joy-Con controllers, so it’s easy to bust out the Nintendo Switch’s tabletop function at a gathering. There’s even a Hand2Hand mode in which you and a friend share the Switch tablet and compete on a vertical screen, a nice intimate feature exclusive to the DX version. It unsurprisingly simplifies the stage display, but it’s a clever system utilization. As enjoyable as local play is, it doesn’t necessarily hold up for long sessions. And since the game sadly doesn’t support online, you can’t just face new challengers whenever you want, which may severely limit your replay value.
Frankly, SpiritSphere’s biggest weakness is that despite a strong arsenal of content, it wears thin quickly. Take the bonus minigames: a target mode where two players cooperate to score points by maintaining a volley to knock down objects, and a squash mode, in which players take turns hitting the ball towards the wall. Neither minigame is bad, and in fact, they’re fun distractions, but that’s all they are – shallow experiences that don’t hold up as well as standard matches.
The only other notable mode is the single-player campaign, which is a linear gauntlet of ten randomized rounds. It incorporates the other minigames, including an unexpectedly awesome Frisbee game, but it’s otherwise just one match after another. To be fair, the AI provides a great challenge, especially on higher difficulties. However, considering the rich cast and Zelda inspiration, I would have liked a richer plot or even some RPG elements à la Mario Tennis GBC or Golf Story. Instead, character storylines and dialogue are dull. Plus, the campaign is so repetitive that you’ll likely only replay it to earn coins, which only give you a chance at unlocking new character skins and spheres.
SpiritSphere DX is a refreshing combination of air hockey and The Legend of Zelda. While solo players may grow bored due to a lackluster campaign, excellent fast-paced multiplayer helps the game deliver where it counts, although a lack of online may diminish its long-term value. Regardless, the elements of a fun party sports title are still present: a multitude of variables to differentiate each match, a colorful cast of distinct characters, and engaging competitive gameplay.
Note: A review copy was used for this article.