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Sp!ng is a ‘stress ball for your brain’

I need more Sp!ng in my life

A star-shaped ball navigating through a puzzle maze Image: SMG Studio
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Recently, when I want to play a game, I’ve been reaching for my phone — particularly, games on Apple Arcade. Currently I’m traveling with only a laptop, and while I can play some games on it, the laptop chugs, its fans breathing heavy from the work. For a while, I’d been letting my Apple Arcade subscription languish, dutifully paying a few dollars a month for something I rarely used.

That’s not because Apple Arcade doesn’t have a wealth of games to choose from: Plenty of my favorites, like Grindstone and Cozy Grove, are available on Apple’s service. But there was always a better option — my gaming PC, a current-gen console, or the Nintendo Switch. This week, with no other options, I opened up Apple Arcade looking for something new to play.

I found Sp!ng, described by developer SMG Studio — creator of Moving Out — as a “stress ball for your brain.” Sp!ng is a one-button puzzle game in which I’ve got to navigate a little star throughout a level, swinging it from branch to branch, avoiding obstacles. I’d liken it to a mix of precision platforming (and flailing, or falling) à la Super Meat Boy and the swinging monkey level from Super Nintendo’s The Lion King. It is somehow both nerve-wracking and chill, with the force of an anxious palm squeezing a stress ball into a packed form, plus the necessary release in letting it go — the ball breathing back to life inside your hand.

Sp!ng starts easy, slowly introducing me to harder levels and more advanced mechanics. But it still never goes beyond the core loop: Swinging that star to catch coins, eventually escaping into an exit portal. Every 10 levels or so, the game expands and gets harder, but it hasn’t yet felt unfair. Each new concept is presented simply, and there’s no punishment for testing out strategies. If you crash into obstacles, like spikes, the game restarts from the beginning of the short level.

It’s not the kind of game that’ll have me playing for hours at a time, fully engrossed. Instead, it’s something I’ve been picking up here or there, in moments when I might otherwise be refreshing Twitter or scrolling on Instagram. Still, those short bursts have been enough to refuel myself with a sense of skillful play. Even though I’ve yet to encounter a devastatingly hard level in Sp!ng, I still have a serious sense of satisfaction when I’ve completed a level perfectly. There’s just something about the fast-paced, flowing gameplay that connects with my brain. It’s the same feeling I get from perfecting my weapon-switching in a game like Doom Eternal — just a lot less gore.