I'm a sucker for cute animals, anything to do with the supernatural or paranormal and, for good measure, anything involving France. Given that Alblune and Armor Games Studios' The Spirit and the Mouse checks off all three of these boxes, I was so ready to dive into the demo released as part of the Steam Next Fest.
The demo opens up with a little blurb that explains the story - spirit guardian Lumion collided with the small mouse named Lila during a thunderstorm, she has most of his powers now and must fulfill his job as Guardian, under his guidance. As far as a premise goes, it's adorable. Lila is such a cute mouse and Lumion is a great omniscient, unseen tutor, explaining to Lila how to use her new electric powers and explaining to the player how to do things like climb latticework. They're both willing to work together and so far they seem to make a great team with the tutor/pupil dynamic in the relationship.
Lila's new responsibilities involve making humans happy and collecting the energy from that, and the demo includes her first job - fixing a TV antenna so an old man can watch his show that he hasn't missed an episode of since it began. The stakes seem small, but it's written in such a way that Lila and Lumion still care about this man. It's not about missing a TV show, but rather it's about the small things in life making people happy.
Lila will need to run around and explore the area of East Street to complete her quest, a sleepy little neighborhood with narrow streets, lots of steps and a certain quiet ambiance. The design of East Street is great, and we do get to see the neighborhood from a mouse-eye view, with plenty of ledges to run along, gaps to crawl under and latticework to climb between areas. It's not a platforming game, but there are certain elements of platforming to your exploration, along with a few small puzzles to solve to find or reach certain areas. It's more difficult than it looks, but without being frustratingly challenging, provided you're the type who likes exploring in games.
As part of fixing the antenna, you're tasked with working with small electric spirits called Kibblins, who then send you on various sub-quests throughout the neighborhood before they agree to return to their job and get the antenna up and running again. The quests are different, no copy paste repeat, and more importantly they're all fun puzzles to solve and tasks to accomplish.
The Kibblins themselves are cute, mischievous creatures, if a little strange. Personally, I'm still wondering why a sentient ball of electricity needs to wear a baseball cap, but to each his own.
The game also included an optional puzzle in the form of collecting lightbulbs from all over the neighborhood to repair a string of lights. This was actually much tougher than anticipated and there were several lightbulbs that I missed or struggled to get.
The Spirit and the Mouse's art style is wonderful, with detailed and textured backgrounds and objects bringing Lila's world to life. It reminded me of the style used in Moss, but given more small touches of personalization and more complicated patterns, as it's not limited by being developed for VR. At the same time, when we see the humans, they're faceless and bright, with blocks of color being used to give them depth and intricacy in the absence of drawing outlines.
While I was hoping to enjoy The Spirit and the Mouse going into the demo, I was absolutely blown away by my experience. This was the standout of the Steam Next Fest for me, and I instantly wishlisted it. With a sweet protagonist, interesting puzzles, a French setting and a wonderful plot set-up, I'm not sure I could possibly recommend this any more. If you're a fan of puzzle games, mice, France, heartfelt stories or just want to play a game that's different from the usual fare out there, I highly recommend picking up The Spirit and the Mouse.
TechRaptor previewed The Spirit and the Mouse on PC with a copy downloaded by the reviewer. It will be launching for PC on a currently unannounced date.