Spirittea is a life simulation pixel game with something new to add to the teapot of the genre. It’s a little game in a little world with high spirits, so let’s see if it lifts your spirits up or down with this Spirittea review.
Spirittea has a fairly standard life simulation premise: your character is a fantasy author who moves from the big city to a small town. Everyone is friendly and no one locks their doors, but you soon discover trouble is brewing around town. Being the only person in town with enough spirituality to see the spirits lurking about, you are tasked with helping one of them restore order. You must track down spirits who forgot who they are and make them remember.
The other half of the game involves running a bathhouse for the spirits to come to bathe and receive money from it. You upgrade the bathhouse from its run-down state to better serve the spirits, and on top of that, you still have the townies to befriend and help with their spirit-induced problems.
It’s got the trademark features of life simulation, but this time centers around a bathhouse instead of a farm. How does Spirittea hold up with this mix-up to the genre blend?
The Gameplay and Design
What stuck out most to me about Spirittea’s controls is that the mouse is not used in any way. Instead, it’s strictly on several keyboard keys to control the game. The controls are not wholly conventional — there’s WASD to walk, left shift to run, M for the map, but C and F for inventory and item controls. These default controls are fine with only a little room for getting them jumbled up.
The gameplay consists of running around town, talking to people to investigate spirit disturbances, and entering spirit vision in order to see and catch spirits when you track them down. You’ll spend the rest at the bathhouse, seating guests in the baths, cycling towels, and keeping the furnace lit, before running home to sleep.
Spirittea’s gameplay loop feels almost ideal. You have the seasons and days mechanic standard for the genre and the stamina meter, but you’re not managing a farm, so you don’t have to spend excessive amounts of time growing and tending to crops. Instead, with the management element being a bathhouse, you’re free to open when you wish, with no consequences for taking days off to do anything else. Simultaneously, you can also spend all your time managing the bathhouse and speedrunning upgrades if you want.
This means even if you’re stuck on how to find a spirit or burnt out on the bathhouse, simply walk around and get to know the townspeople or sleep as long as you want to progress the game. The actual loop of the bathhouse feels immensely satisfying. There is no point where spirits stop coming in until you manually end the day. This incentivizes optimization from the beginning and keeping busy, while still leaving you with moments to breathe when everyone is in the tubs.
However, I can see the general minimalism of the parts of the game not tied to the bathhouse or spirits turning some people off to there not being much else to explore, at least not until significant progression is made. I sort of wish there was some more to focus on, but I also appreciate being able to narrow my focus, so I’m mixed on it myself.
Other design elements
I like the character models for everybody except the player. The player character just doesn’t feel quite right to me. The rest of the art style is nicely crafted, and I particularly like how it looks on smaller details, like fish, small decor, and pastry displays. The map also dances when you open it, which is incredibly satisfying to watch. Furthermore, the map is just big and small enough to be easy to navigate. The game isn’t afraid to play with its own UI, either. There is a spirit you can only catch by directly interfacing with a blank text box, and another covers the text box in goo until you fix the problem.
My biggest critique of how the game is designed is in its instruction. There are times when it explains things thoroughly enough and others when it really gives you nothing to go off of. It’s easy to miss crucial details on how to progress and not get any substantial hinting or visual clues. I’ve been instructed to go to a graveyard near town that was never established as existing or stuck sitting in one location for hours hoping for something to appear because I have no further instruction except a vague timeframe of a certain hour.
If you forget how to do anything, good luck because there’s not exactly a help section to consult in the pause menu. You’re likely to get stuck running around aimlessly until something clicks. Sometimes you can’t interact with NPCs and wonder if it’s intentional or your game is bugged. I wish there was more I could do to figure something out when I got stuck, like hints from NPC dialogue or more explicit hints from our guide.
Story and Characters
As mentioned, you play some guy who moves to a small town, presumably to get inspired for a fantasy novel. The locals are friendly and welcoming as per typical life simulation, but then you receive a sample of tea leaves and drink them from your pot, revealing a spirit to be in your house.
This spirit is Wonyan, a cat who explains to you people have stopped leaving offerings to spirits in shrines, leading to them forgetting who they are and causing problems. Because you’re the only one spiritual enough to see the spirits, you have to become the new keeper of the bathhouse and use the money from spirits to repair it. In short, Wonyan is roping you into doing all the work for his money-making scheme.
In a genre full of wholesome premises, Spirittea is more what I would describe as a bit wacky and amusing. Wonyan is mean. He insults you and other spirits constantly, is always mad or upset about something, and everything comes back to making money while he doesn’t do anything. He also swears quite a lot, which is unconventional for the genre. And I love it. It’s hilarious how mean-spirited your guide character is. He’s an absolute delight to have by your side, in the ‘I laugh at your misery’ sort of way.
Besides him, you have the townies and the spirits. The spirits are amusing in their antics and motivations. Some of them are just completely out of it, some are dimwitted, and others are more traditional angry spirits. Some of them literally just want to eat food (me too, spirit). The townies are generally sweet, but I like the game’s way of revealing some of their depth through dealing with spirits harassing them for you to solve. I tried to fix a guy’s home invasion via spirit and learned all about his parents dying and how that impacted him. If the game is willing to throw that at me, what else are the townies hiding?
Overall, I enjoy being part of a premise that’s different from anything having to do with a farm. Spirittea’s story is somehow both the definition of cozy but also very amusing and a bit out of left field for the genre. It’s unique and it sticks out and, needless to say, I like that.
A funny, unique, and plain fun quali-tea experience
My review of Spirittea is if you don’t mind occasionally getting stuck or a simple gameplay loop, and want something you can progress at your own pace and play comfortably anywhere, I think Spirittea will please genre casuals and enthusiasts and is worth the price. If you’re into restaurant managers, this is in the same vein. I really had fun with this game, and plan to continue. The bathhouse calls to me to be fully upgraded, and I want to see what happens when I save all the spirits and make all the money. I’m sure it’ll be tea-riffic.