Phantom Spark is a hover racer of impeccable chill and wistful fantasy worldbuilding

By admin Jun4,2024

I was a diehard WipeOut player as a kid. Seriously, me and the boys used to roam the streets of Bradford looking for F-Zero players to bully, at least till the RollCagers rocked up and stole our lunch money. Mind you, I think I was probably less interested in WipeoUt’s racing than its trackside landscapes, which remain exquisite decades on – all those sweeping album-cover facades with their animate fixtures that thickened and solidified into full-blown peripheral cities as the series progressed.

I am similarly hooked by the worlds of Ghosts Ehf’s Phantom Spark, which are a million lightyears from WiPeout in terms of their influences and atmosphere, much as the underlying hover-jockeying is a million lightyears away from WipeouT in terms of its gentleness and lack of combative elements. But these spaces are just as mesmerising to fly through and think about when not focussed on finding the perfect line through the next corner, or avoiding a patch of grass. Small wonder, given that the game’s art director is Joost Eggermont, whose streaking astral contraptions and “small interactive moments” I’ve long admired, but never managed to write about until now.

There’s a Phantom Spark demo coming in Steam Next Fest from the 7th, but publishers Coatsink were kind enough to wire us a code ahead of schedule, which Ed Thorn was kind enough to pass onto me, possibly because he was busy getting his arse kicked by Elden Ring Shadow Of The Erdtree. I’ve played about 15 minutes of Phantom Spark, and it’s a lovely, dreamy little thing, a piece of rollercoaster worldbuilding that coaxes out your sense of perfectionism while maintaining a bullet-proof air of chill. Not that there are any bullets to worry about here.

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It also has the faint dusting of a story campaign. You are a ball of light trapped inside a craft that consists of flexing triangular surfaces, like an aerodynamic Xmas decoration. As you’re getting to grips with your new vehicular prison, a ribbon with a face appears and tells you not to sweat the whole imprisonment thing, because look, there’s a race course to run, and rising up all around it, a graceful landscape of weathered and delicately mosaicked stone – a collapsed cyclopean expanse of cubed recesses, trefoil (I think?) arches and dangling, vine-draped pillars.

The game’s universe doesn’t have a population beyond the ghosts of your previous times, but it does have ancestral guardians who preside over domains encompassing several time trial courses (there are 30 in all), unlocked in order of challenge. I met one during my quick try of the demo, an affable bearded spirit who asked me if the views made me feel “insignificant”, which yes, they did, but in a good way. A soothing way. The last demo I played was Mech Engineer. This is definitely easier on the nerves than Mech Engineer, though I’m sure later trials will ratchet up the tension. Beyond that, there are leaderboards to kindle your competitive instincts, and the nowadays-endangered charms of splitscreen multiplayer.

Joost Eggermont was the name that got me playing Phantom Spark. Not till writing up the demo did I remember that Ghosts Ehf’s two in-house members, Torfi and Joon, are also among the creators of the amazing NUTS, a conspiracy sim for photographers who distrust squirrels. I would not have drawn a straight line between NUTS and Phantom Spark, but I’m glad to find myself here at the end of it. Take me higher, Ribbon Dude. Show me what’s over that blissfully cloudy horizon.

By admin

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