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NAIRI: Tower of Shirin (Switch) artwork

NAIRI: Tower of Shirin (Switch) review

"NAIRI: Tower of Shirin tells a neat enough story to keep players going even when playing isn't fun anymore."

NAIRI: Tower of Shirin is a graphic adventure that was successfully funded on Kickstarter in late 2016. It finally released on Nintendo Switch and PC near the end of 2018, after a lengthy development cycle. The result of all that hard work is an often charming adventure I couldn't help but love from very nearly the moment I began playing. Then the hours that followed did what they could to erode my initial goodwill.

Developed by HomeBearStudio, NAIRI tells the story of Nairi, an affluent but sheltered young girl who wakes in the middle of the night to find that her parents have been taken prisoner by the Royal Guard as part of a maneuver engineered by an unknown political adversary. She'll potentially join her loved ones in captivity if she doesn't flee the city, so her long-time tutor directs her across the street to the establishment of a disreputable fellow named Frederick. The trader has agreed to smuggle her out of the city and to parts unknown... where she will theoretically be safe. So she climbs into a padded crate that is soon shipped across the sand dunes that lie beyond the city walls. Then things go from bad to worse. Desert bandits raid the caravan and Nairi is abducted. Finally left to her own devices while her captors go out on another raid, the young lass decides to engineer a daring escape, which is where the player meaningfully enters the equation. They'll learn to pay attention to every detail of Nairi's surroundings in order to help her secure her freedom.

NAIRI: Tower of Shirin (Switch) image

I've played relatively few serious graphic adventures over the years, though I generally appreciate the genre when I turn my attention in that direction. NAIRI started off on the right foot by avoiding some of the genre issues that tend to annoy me. You never are in charge of carrying more than six or seven items at once, which means you never have to waste time throwing every item from your inventory at every point of interaction in the environment if you happen to get stuck. Furthermore, the general ideas behind most of the puzzles are solid. If you pay attention to the clues characters provide and the remarks NPCs make, you can generally figure out where you're supposed to go and about what you should do once you arrive.

Nairi's world is a unique one, her story dark and mysterious. She looks a bit like Dora the Explorer when you see her in cutscenes, and the characters she meets resemble stuffed animals--ducks, rabbits, lizards and the like--that might easily populate an old-fashioned Disney cartoon. Most of the adventure unfolds in and around a city that has been divided into districts, according to the financial means of its inhabitants. Nasty gangs occupy the "poor district," where their criminal behavior is ignored by a King who appears to be determined only to build a tower that will stretch into the sky. He seems to have good reasons for that obsession, and as Nairi learns more about what they might be, her intended rescue mission is derailed by one surprising distraction after another.

NAIRI: Tower of Shirin (Switch) image

I'm not usually one who pays an inordinate amount of attention to the plot in a video game. Going in, I certainly didn't expect NAIRI to give me reason to deviate from that policy. So it came as quite the surprise when I found myself genuinely absorbed by the meandering narrative. The characters and the city they occupy definitely intrigued me, and the gorgeous art direction was supplemented wonderfully by an atmospheric soundtrack packed with tunes that got my foot to tapping. I was having a grand time... until minor flaws began to wear on my nerves and new sources of frustration joined the mix.

My chief complaint is that navigating the various environments becomes needlessly tedious. Each static scene is presented from a first-person perspective. Moving the hand-shaped cursor around near the edge of the screen (or in some cases, near a doorway or exit arch) produces an arrow you can tap to head to the next attraction. Unfortunately, intersections make it difficult to tell which direction you've just come from and where you need to go. I fought this irritating issue for most of the campaign. Sometimes I would be investigating and an arrow would appear just as I pressed a button to search, dragging me to another screen. Each transition produces a loading screen that lingers for 3 or 4 seconds, so wrong turns and fumbles get annoying in a hurry.

NAIRI: Tower of Shirin (Switch) image

A related issue is the sheer volume of time you have to spend crisscrossing every environment. The campaign is lousy with fetch quests, particularly when you embark on an extended sequence during its middle. You need a bit of gossip from a washer woman. She won't spill the beans unless you find her son and convince him not to join a gang. He's willing to consider your pleas on his mother's behalf, but only in exchange for a new guitar... which a guy across town might give you in exchange for a slice of melon. But fruit is a luxury in the desert climate, so you'll have to get him a date with a lady he admires but won't adequately describe. When you find her, she's pleased but not ecstatic because of course she needs makeup to prep for her big moment. It's not like you can just buy the stuff, though, even with merchants all around and your curse full of mostly useless coins. Instead, you have to find someone who can make it for you, which requires you to gather the-- You get the point, right?

As irritating as the fetch quests become, I do prefer them to some of the situations the game throws at players. There were times when just the tiniest bit more information would have spared me a lot of frustration. I spent an hour or two wandering a dungeon I had essentially already cleared, all because the characters wouldn't let me leave while I was "forgetting" something. It turns out I had neglected to remove an item from a pedestal where I had to place it and leave it much earlier during my visit to that location. It wasn't even a puzzle that had me stumped. It was just bad directions.

NAIRI: Tower of Shirin (Switch) image

Vague expectations sometimes impact the actual puzzles, as well. The final location you visit is a gauntlet of interlinked puzzles that become downright obscure. The game provides a hint system, but it only addresses the stuff that's already obvious. There were several puzzles that left me wondering if I was completely barking up the wrong tree, or if the interface just didn't like the way I was inputting my commands to offer up the answer I thought the game might want. The latter was usually the case, even without factoring in some of the puzzles that force the player to slide blocks around an area while avoiding certain tiles. For whatever reason, the controls for those puzzles are atrocious, whether using the JoyCon controllers or the touchscreen. Blocks get hung up on corners and then suddenly the cursor catches up and the block zips off in a direction you never intended. For that matter, the game's cursor in general moves too quickly and jerkily, so you have to hold a shoulder button to direct it with any precision.

I had a lovely time playing NAIRI: The Tower of Shirin for most of the first hour or so, but the campaign's remainder introduced an unusually tedious series of fetch quests that pulled me away from the high-stakes tale the writers had crafted up to that point. Then the final handful of finicky puzzles turned my adventure into an outright chore. The cherry on top came only when I finally triggered the game's concluding cutscene, which offers the closest thing to a literal cliffhanger that you'll ever see without an actual cliff. The developers use that moment to say they'll see me next time, but at this point I'm not sure they actually will.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 08, 2019)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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