Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away is a film about a spoilt young girl who is obliged to work at a bathhouse for supernatural creatures, after her parents are turned into pigs by a wicked witch. Spirittea from Edmonton, Canada-based Cheesemaker Games is Spirited Away in the guise of a Stardew Valley-style management sim. Released today, it casts you as a wholesome young entrepreneur who has just arrived in a town full of rogue supernatural creatures. To free the town from its spectral infestation, you must renovate an old mountain bathhouse and treat each phantom to a jolly good scrub. You might also need to deal with some Unfinished Business, such as tracking down a lost possession. At least there’s no witch to worry about. That I know of, anyway.
I have fond memories of Spirited Away – it was the film that re-introduced me to anime as an undergraduate, following the traditional early-career middlebrow otaku phase of obsessing over Akira, Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell while turning my nose up at stuff like Naruto, because it’s “just for kids”. I was on the brink of pitching a Spirittea review, but then our reviews editor Ed Thorn emerged howling and gibbering from the floorboards and asked me to review a 100-hour RPG instead (won’t spoil), so I’ll have to settle for trying the demo.
As with Stardew Valley, Spirittea is about managing a lot of different things at once. You’ve got to board, bathe and feed the spirits, who range in size from ecotoplasmic emoji to huge tiger gods. You’ve got to keep the bathhouse clean and stocked with towels and wood for the boilers, while gradually introducing new furnishings and decorations. You’ve got to visit the shops to buy said furnishings and decorations, which will probably go easier if you make friends with the locals, and join them for recreational activities such as karaoke. And you’ve got to ensure that spirits who don’t like each other don’t end up in the same tub.
The top-down sprite-based visuals (badumtish) don’t have the charm of the Studio Ghibli film, but taking Cheesemaker to task for this feels deeply ungenerous – few videogame artists can beat Ghibli at their own game. VG247’s Kelsey Raynor has a review in which she summarises Spirittea as both a fine time in itself, and a nice way to while away the weeks and months before the release of Haunted Chocolatier, the next game from Stardew Valley creator ConcernedApe. In Haunted Chocolatier, you enlist spooks to run a confectionary business. Perhaps there’s scope for some kind of crossover story?
Here’s the Steam page with the demo. I’m not sure how long the demo will be up – Steam publishers often take them offline after launch. Mind you, the game will also be available as part of the Game Pass subscription service.