Apollo Games: Speare – A Critical Review

Yesterday I played the demo version of the game Speare. designed by University of Guelph English professor Dan Fischlin and developed by Apollo Games.Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the game, Speare is targeted at kids of age group 10 and 15 according to sources. Speare aims to teach Shakespearean language and literature through a highly addictive shooting game.

At this point I would like to quote Zach Whalen who has written a summary of the game in his article – Speare: Scrolling Shooter Game Helps You Learn Shakespeare

Speare Game Summary by Zach Whalen

The plot centers on a society based on knowledge and poetry (which sounds pretty good to me), and the two warring planets Capulon and Montagor (in the fair Verona System, where I guess we lay our scene). These factions have to work together to save the the Knowledge Spheres (artifacts of Poetic Code) which have been stolen by the invading Insidian Army.

Gameplay consists mainly of shooting enemies and avoiding their bullets, but you earn points, energy, and abilities by either examining artifacts or collected text fragments. The “examine” feature is a pretty cool mechanic whereby you can freeze the action and examine each element on the playing field. Specially identified artifact items contain short tidbits of Shakespearean information that help you in the quiz that will conclude each level (I told you there was trivia). The other linguistic mechanic involves collecting knowledge fragments that fall from defeated Insidions that have some relationship to a key Shakespearean phrase given to you in a briefing at the outset of the mission. For example, the first level I played used the phrase, “I Bite My Thumb at Them.”

Throughout the mission, capsules dropped by Insidions reveal a word which rotates if you shoot the capsule. If you collect the capsule when it displays a word from your phrase or a word that bears a sanctioned relationship to one of your words (in my case, synonyms and homonyms were acceptable), you gain points. If you collect a capsule with an unrelated word or a word you’ve already collected, you lose points or your ship is subjected to temporary paralysis.

Now here in this post, I would like to put down some of my observations of this game.

No doubt the game is innovative. In the sense who would have ever thought of teaching Shakespeare through a shooting game. The game begins with a story. There is a voice over that talks about saving the Prosperian Galaxy and informs you of two warring planets and the invading Insidian Army.

Once the intro is over you get into the main menu of the game. The training section give you a brief overview of the controls. Once you get into the game all that you do is shoot and collect word capsules either the words found in the poetic line displayed at the top of the screen or related words that is homonyms or synonyms .

At the end of level one, you have a quiz session about Shakespeare after which you move on to the second level . Just like in any game you gain points and go for upgrades.

The gaming concept/ logic is in tact.

But what is the game trying to achieve? No doubt the game gives you a good memorizing exercise, in the sense you register the words in the lines displayed on screen. You get to test your vocabulary skills.

The vital question here is: What is the game trying to teach? Philosophy , Literature or Language? Is the game trying to teach at all?

One of the reviews published in Speare – The Literacy Arcade Game states:

One of the unique gaming features of ‘Speare is that it reads Romeo and Juliet as a play about the failure of a community of people to communicate with each other to resolve their conflicts non-violently. The game builds on this lesson and reinforces the value of creative communication and literacy instead of violence and destruction.

If at all the game is built on a valuable lesson, the message is too subtle for the target audience to comprehend or rather the game is trying to teach too many things at a time consequently teaching nothing at all.

In the first level you are too engrossed shooting and matching words and their meanings. While you shoot, you don’t think of Shakespeare but for the intrusive tit bits of info that comes up on the screen or the ingrained philosophy of the game :The power to speak is the power to do.”All that you think of is just plain English words.

In the second level, out of the blue, Shakespeare appears. The quiz is based on Shakespeare’s biography. From a plain vocabulary exercise, you move on to a focused exercise. While you take up the quiz, all that you want to do is just click on some option and move on to the next.

If this is an educational game, the learning objective is ambiguous to the learner. Since the learning objective is not clear, the flow of the game atleast till the second level is hazy. I just played two levels. I am not sure how the game proceeds further that is after the second level.

The game is just too heavy for a kid to get the essence of it, if at all there is any.

Just as the content of the game is, so is the design.

The game has a serious and dull milieu. The black shade dominates throughout the game.


The poetic code that gets displayed at the top of the screen gets hidden in the dark background.


The training section has so much text giving you lots of info that you are likely to skip it.


In fact you can manage through the game without additional info.

When you play Speare, there are just too many things about the game itself that you have to remember , in the process of which you forget Shakespeare. However Shakespeare does intrude and remind you of his presence.

Do play the demo version of this game and let me know your views.

Play here: http://www.apollogames.ca/users/speareDemo.html

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