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Saira (PC) artwork

Saira (PC) review


"Nifflas makes a very specific kind of game. You can generally pick them out at a glance, it's the kind of game you can sum up in a single sentence. "



Nifflas makes a very specific kind of game. You can generally pick them out at a glance, it's the kind of game you can sum up in a single sentence.

"Everyone is gone, but where?"

Oh sure, there's a little more to it than that. Something about a teleporter accident in a sci-fi universe that left your title character stranded and alone in the galaxy, but that one sentence is all that you need.

The strongest aspect of Saira is that everyone's gone. There's an almost stifling sense of loneliness in this game, and it's not so simple as the plot saying all humans have disappeared. There aren't even many hostile creatures on the various planets you'll explore. But it's not the lack of hostile monsters that makes you feel alone either. It's the serenity of levels that could almost be characters themselves. It's a decrepit clock tower in the background, forever frozen at 12:15, and a thousand alien plants that waver silently in the wind. It's fireflies that seem to be made of the same lava they call home, harmlessly flitting about in the background.

Everything in the world somehow reminds you of the fact that you're basically the only person of consequence. The things you do are the only things being done. The effect is difficult to describe, but it's immediately noticeable. You feel like the last person alive, scratching about the remnants of vanished civilizations for the answer to what happened.

Perhaps its your camera. The game makes use of the ability to photograph clues in the background, which you can then use to solve puzzles elsewhere. Maybe the lack of life in your pictures is a subtle reminder that you have no one to help you. It's a fun mechanic, however, and at least you don't need to write down the long button combinations you'll find scratched into the rocks for later use.

Your greatest enemy is the environment itself, be it toxic gases limiting your exploration to frantic sprints between safe zones, or fiendish jumping puzzles suspended over molten endless pits. Gameplay itself focuses mostly on puzzle platforming with a pinch of exploration. The level design won't bore you with the "always to the right" philosophy of most platformers, but you can still complete each level as you arrive.

A myriad of varied gimmicks fight off stagnation. Each level has a theme, and they're all uniquely alien in appearance. In one level you might activate a number of sequential locks in a time limit. Others will have you collecting the answers to a quiz by taking pictures of the background. Sometimes you just have to not fall into the waiting jaws of some giant stationary monster.

The downside is that, you can't accidentally stumble onto something surprising because you aren't really free to just go wherever you want. The game actually tells you that you don't have to leave any given level to find clues or powers necessary to complete it. Indeed, you get no new powers at all, and it does hurt the sense of progression a bit. You just go from one level to the next until you finish the game. There's a mechanic in place that sort of lets you pick what order you'll do the levels in, but it's sort of just smoke and mirrors with respect to dispelling the linearity.

Dejected though I sound, it's hard to call this a flaw. It's something I miss from Nifflas's previous works, but given that the great majority of people haven't even heard of the guy, I don't think it's going to be deal breaking, especially for new players. This game has everything that makes Nifflas great. Imaginative level design, foreign visuals, tremendous ambiance, and the kind of soul you rarely see in the industry anymore. For $10, you could do far worse.

Rating: 9/10

dragoon_of_infinity's avatar
Community review by dragoon_of_infinity (October 03, 2010)

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