Spirits Abyss

A game by Caiysware for PC, originally released in 2020.
Spirits Abyss is a roguelike platformer offering procedurally generated destructible environments. The opening cutscene shows a parent carrying their child as they trek up the side of a mountain under the light of a blood moon. Legend has it that there is an opening on the mountaintop that leads to the gates of the Resting Realms, and any child cast into the abyss on the night of a blood moon may someday return with great wealth and power over The Undying. You take on the role of the child who is tossed into the abyss, and you must battle your way out... or die trying.
While the game takes many inspirations from Spelunky, it carries over the aesthetic qualities and dark childlike humor of the developer’s previous works, Straimium Immortaly and Skelly Selest. Each of these games offers multiple gameplay modes, a gritty pixel style punctuated by occasional garish colors, and arcane beings who offer to help you to survive for just a few more minutes, often in exchange for some kind of sacrifice. These games are brutally difficult at the start but become more manageable as the player makes progress, gains an understanding of the inner workings, and eventually begins unlocking new characters.
The game offers a large number of gameplay modes, most of which are locked at the start. Available from the beginning of the game is a grimoire that populates as you encounter new enemies and items during your runs. The Abysm Challenges allow the player to compete against others in seeded runs. The main game mode is called Lexicanium Hunt, which sees you descending through four large areas in search of a book, followed by a boss encounter. Once this mode has been completed, a more difficult mode opens, this time sending the player through a deeper 8-level run. Other modes include an even deeper dive, standalone challenges for expert players, an open free play mode that allows players to purchase items to take with them, and a card game.
Upon entering the Lexicanium Hunt, the player is able to select between one of two characters, with five additional characters that remain locked. One character uses a gun as their primary weapon, which they are able to fire in eight directions, with the weapon firing continuously. Holding the FIRE button causes the character to lock their aim in that direction, allowing the player to move around while holding his aim on an enemy. This character’s secondary weapon is a grenade launcher, which can be used against enemies, but is most often used to destroy chunks of the environment to gain access to treasures, cut paths into new rooms, or create shortcuts toward the exit at the bottom of the area.
The second character uses a sword instead of a gun, and they toss bombs by hand or drop them in place rather than firing them. This may make the sword-wielder appear to be the less desirable character, especially given the high level of initial difficulty, but the sword and handheld bombs offer an additional degree of control. More importantly, the sword is considerably more powerful than the gun, wiping out enemies in a single hit that would otherwise require up to four shots with the gun. The ability to destroy enemies is paramount, especially those that can move quickly or appear in large numbers. This character can also aim in eight directions and the sword slashes continuously as long as the player holds the button.
Both of the starting characters are able to perform a 3x variable jump, wall jump, and ledge grab. Grabbing a ledge allows them to hang, and pressing JUMP allows them to drop down, jump up to mount the ledge, or perform a long horizontal jump in the opposite direction. Levels are descent-based, with the exits located at the bottom, so jumping is primarily used to reach treasure chests or crates that are placed on high ledges, and the player is also able to backtrack to any point in the level.
Backtracking offers the risk of encountering tough enemies but potentially offers rewards as the player discovers large treasure chests or NPC’s offering items for sale, for free, or in exchange for a sacrifice. A map is available for players who want to ensure that they have explored every corner of a level, but it’s generally not needed since the player knows he's making progress as long as he continues to move downward.
The player begins each run with four units of health and four bombs (at least with the two starting characters). Health can be lost very quickly if the player is not mindful of enemy behaviors, traps, and environmental design. Basic enemies reduce the player’s health by a single unit, but there are common enemies even in the first area that cause two hits of damage - half of the player’s starting health - and later enemies can cause even more damage. Health restoratives are uncommon and are most often found by dealing with various NPC’s (more on these in a bit). On rare occasions, the player may encounter white “pure hearts” which allow him to sustain a hit of any strength, losing only a single white heart in the process.
Bombs appear frequently, usually contained within destructible crates. As such, if you see a crate on the far side of an obstruction, it’s often wise to use a bomb to reach it, since it’s likely that the crate will contain a 4-pack of bombs. Levels are procedurally generated, but the layouts are created in such a way that it’s possible to navigate to the end of a level without using bombs. However, there are lots of thin walls with treasures on the other side, encouraging players to bomb their way through. That said, it’s possible to drop down into a lower area – often by using a bomb to blow open the floor – and find that you can’t get back up, so it’s best to keep a couple of bombs stocked just in case.
Level themes include caves, organic environments, icy shafts, mysterious structures, and pits of death, and each area offers unique theming, obstacles, enemy types, general orientation, and spatial layout. For instance, the icy levels have lots of wide open spaces, making it easy to fall quite a distance if you’re not paying attention (pressing DOWN allows you to scroll the camera to look below, and pressing UP scrolls the camera upward). On the other hand, the library and prison levels are more horizontally oriented with long solid floors that extend across the entire area. Organic levels are more constricted, thus limiting navigation, increasing the challenge that comes from fast-moving foes, and making it more difficult to get away from explosions and wall-penetrating projectiles.
There are also variants of these level themes, including frozen areas that affect enemy behaviors, and cursed areas filled with exploding traps and enemies. Usually, when the player leaves a level, he moves immediately to the next, but sometimes he encounters areas with locked doors that require objects or sacrifices to open. Since items appear randomly, it may take some time before the player encounters a door while holding the item he needs to unlock it, but when he does, entirely new themed areas are unlocked. Once unlocked, they remain so, and these themes appear randomly in all future runs and across all game modes.
The items available to the player are wide-ranging and can have a major impact on how a run is played. Navigation enhancement items include faster movement, a high jump, a double jump, and the ability to float slowly downward. All of these items are passive and stackable, so the player can take advantage of them immediately upon collection. Some active navigation items include a shovel that allows the player to dig downward a little at a time without using bombs, a drill that allows him to smash blocks above him, and a jetpack that allows him to fly freely. All of these items have stamina meters that deplete with each use, and when they’re used up, they’re gone (although the player occasionally encounters repair kits).
A lot of items are built around assisting the player in combat and defense, such as more powerful strikes, longer range attacks, stronger bombs, spinning orbs that absorb projectiles, and support drones. These can be found within levels, and they’re common items given to the player between levels. After completing each level, the player is able to select between one of three items. Often, one or more items will have a heart under it, meaning that the player will gain that item in the next level, plus one unit of extra health. Occasionally, an item will have a triple heart beneath it, rewarding the player with the item plus three additional hearts. As such, the player is often left to decide whether a given item is more important than health restoration.
Other useful passive items include immunity to explosions (so you don’t kill yourself with your own bombs), the ability to randomly absorb damage or deal extra damage, a small amount of health or bomb restoration at the end of a level, the ability to cause slain enemies to generate coins or protective spirits, a currency magnet, and even items that spit out additional items at the start of each level. There are also active items that can be used to alter other items in your inventory, such as transforming bombs into hearts, hearts into bombs, items into gold, or turning one item into another random item. Equippable items include the ability to slow down time, teleportation, limited invincibility, and a blast that damages all onscreen enemies. Some equippables may be used multiple times, while others are one-time use.
While some items are given freely or available for purchase, most come from interacting with the game’s colorful – and often quite creepy – NPC’s. Many such characters will require a blood sacrifice (giving up one unit of health) in exchange for one or more items, and sometimes the player doesn’t know what these items will be beforehand, adding a bit of risk to the proposition. One creature will grant you items in exchange for your soul… which is to say that you have a chance to receive additional damage from that point forward. One of the cooler encounters is a dark chamber where you can give up a heart to a skeletal creature for a set of random items, or move into an adjacent room to give up bombs in exchange for random items… with a spectacular surprise if you give enough of them.
Not all of these encounters are dark and dangerous. In fact, there are some minigames that just require a bit of currency in exchange for one or more items, including a random card flipping game, a memorization card game, and a slot machine that gives great rewards (and is pretty easy to beat).
The safest way to acquire new items is to purchase them from a shop, although like Spelunky, you have the option to murder the shopkeeper and just take everything for free… but shopkeepers are super fast and super deadly, so do this at your peril. That said, it’s sometimes possible to attack a shopkeeper from a distance, and the sword-wielding character can attack through walls, occasionally making this prospect a bit easier. There’s even an area where a character asks you to take out every shopkeeper in the vicinity, if you dare.
New playable characters aren’t unlocked by completing runs, but rather by solving various challenges within the levels. In fact, you’re likely to play for quite a while before you encounter a scenario where it’s clear that you can unlock a new character. Hints for each unlock appear on the character selection interface, such as mentioning that one is sealed behind bars, one is trapped by a cave-in, and one is being tormented in a snowy area. Once these characters are unlocked, they become available in all game modes, and each character has unique weapons and movement abilities.
For instance, the ninja starts off each run with eight bombs instead of four, but they only do half as much damage. On the other hand, he’s also more likely to find bombs within the levels, meaning that he’s a great character to use for exploration, which is further aided by his increased movement speed. The ninja's primary weapons are throwing daggers that move in a bit of an arc, but they have a longer range than the gun and can hit enemies positioned below the player. Powerups available to the ninja offer increased range, power, and firing rate, making him a formidable attacker as well. A couple of the other characters have lower jumps but unique weapons, with one able to dig through individual blocks and another able to upgrade to homing projectiles. Each character offers a new way to tackle the environment, and may be more or less suited to the player’s preferred playstyle.
Unlike other roguelike games, there’s not as much of a focus on boss encounters. For the most part, the player must contend with the levels – which are quite dangerous on their own – and are free from boss fights until they reach the lowest level of the abyss. Bosses absorb a ton of damage but have generally simple patterns and are otherwise stationary. So, assuming the player reaches a boss with the proper items and enough health, he’s likely to defeat it on a first or second attempt. Completing the game (or dying) brings up a summary screen showing the player’s currency, completion time, and how this compares locally and via online leaderboards.
The main game modes offer local 2P co-op, and the card game allows the player to challenge another person or the CPU. The card game – called Clashful Cards – features a 3x3 grid with players placing cards of varying stats denoting their health, attack power, and defense, and these cards have arrows indicating their direction of attack, which determines which adjacent cards they can strike. The player places a card on the grid and can perform one of five random actions per turn, and he can cast a number of spells with different effects. The goal is to reduce the opponent’s beating heart to zero health. Players can build their decks by defeating enemies in the main game modes and collecting their cards, at which point they have a chance of appearing in their decks.
The game’s aesthetics are colorful but gritty, and the game is full of dark humor, which is often made cheerful by the peculiar way in which many characters speak, and this style is apparent in many of the developer’s previous works as well. Despite the atmosphere of hopelessness that comes from playing as a discarded child fighting through the dark creatures of the abyss, the game is still lighthearted and doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there are lots of humorous (and often equally uncomfortable) moments to be found throughout the experience.
The game has plenty to offer players who are asked to dive into the abyss over and over again, which is key to the design of a roguelike experience. The rules of the game's procedural generation are such that each area has its own unique feel, with different strategies required for taking on different locations. There are also plenty of surprises to be found throughout, from doorways that lead to new themed areas, to unlockable playable characters, to humorous and eccentric NPC’s, to in-level bonuses for completing runs, and lots of game modes, all of which slowly open to the player as he makes progress, thus keeping the experience fresh and engaging.

Sprits Abyss was developed by Anthony Case, a.k.a. Caiys, who is based in the UK, and the game was published under his Caiysware label. Anthony’s other works include Skelly Selest, Straimium Immortaly, Echo of the Wilds, Ilamentia, and Straima. The game was developed using GameMaker Studio, with music from Ozzed and Rolemusic.