Wednesday, 17 September 2014


Post-Launch Review
Developer: Nicklas Nygren
Released: December 2009
Played: best ending obtained in 4h:12min


After a teleportation accident, photographer Saira realizes she's the only person in the galaxy. After two years on her own, she needs only a few more parts to finish the new teleporter she's been building to try to find out what happened to her. Saira will have to travel across seven star systems to find the parts she needs.

At Launch

Haven't found too many reviews, but the ones I have seen average out to around 70%. A few found it too simplistic and plot-light, while others enjoyed the puzzles and design.

Post Launch

Can't find any evidence of patches or updates.

Saira is a puzzle-platformer that requires both quick reflexes and clever thinking. It feels inspired by classic adventure games: you can explore at your own pace in the order of your choosing, and the solutions or hints to puzzles are often in places you won't expect - though they're always in the same star system as the puzzle, which helps avoid frustration.

I quite enjoyed the puzzles. There's quite a lot of variety. Some are very simple, requiring only that you find a password in the world and punch it in. Some are complex, like programming the movement of a dot through the right points, or manipulating circuits while accounting for node power requirements. And some are platforming challenges requiring timing and skill after you figure out what needs to be done. Saira's camera is a great feature and an upgrade to the adventure game formula, allowing you to snap and save shots of clues in-game so you don't have to grab a pen and paper to remember codes.
The only challenge I really didn't enjoy was a three-minute speedrun through a complex area with the checkpoint order hidden on another planet. I'll admit to skipping that one and looking up the code portion it would have granted as a reward. 

The reason I didn't enjoy it is because the controls felt tricky to master. The issue that kept throwing me off is that you can jump to a wall and run up it if you hold the up key before impact, but the keypress often doesn't seem to register. Sometimes it seemed like it was because I didn't have enough speed hitting the wall, and altering my approach helped. Other times it seemed like pressing other keys at the same time would block the input - which is frustrating when you have to hold the jump key to maximize height and the arrow key to move in the right direction.

Visuals are quite nice, though, with a unique style: landscapes are mostly solid colours or silhouettes, but backgrounds and decor are photographs (with appropriate blur for depth of field). It provides a bit of a surreal feel, especially when you recognize the vegetation as normal Earth plants at absurd sizes relative to Saira.
Speaking of Saira, there's a surprising amount of character conveyed for such a simple, narrative-light game. When you leave some planets for the first time you get a few slides worth of backstory. Saira photographs dangerous places and creatures, which explains her physical skill. She's got family and history and there are some incidents mentioned.

There are also some surprisingly effective dream sequences presented in the same way. They're very simple - you get three (mostly) still images of the dream, and then a fourth of Saira reacting in her spaceship. If it's a bad dream she's sitting up awake; if it's a good dream she's sleeping soundly. This is all done wordlessly and with limited information, but there's enough to get a sense of what she's dreaming and how it makes her feel. Well done.

To close things off I'll make a complaint for the second time this month. The store page presents Saira as a standalone game, but just booting it up the first time reveals that it's apparently meant to be episodic. You have to choose which episode to play from a list of one, and at the end of the game you've accomplished your goal (maybe, to an extent, possibly correctly) and it drops a big reveal and says "but what happens next is a story for another time". But since the game released in 2009 and it's now 2014, I'm not sure the story will continue.

Recommendation: maybe.

It's an interesting game with a unique look that does a good job conveying character and emotion very minimally. The variety in puzzles is nice, but also means it's likely you'll find at least one you don't like. With no resolution of the big mystery and ending on a cliffhanger, but with no sequel in sight, I would recommend it if you want to try a neat puzzle-adventure game but not if you want a good story. But it's free on Steam, so you might as well give it a shot.

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