June 21st, 2010 | By Nate Edwards
Nifflas, the creator of indie platformer titles Knytt, Kyntt Stories, and Within a Deep Forest, has finally started charging money for his latest title (also a platformer), Saira. The eponymous main character, Saira, is trying to repair her teleporter in order to reach her former partner and find out what has happened to the rest of humanity, who have all disappeared. Parts of the teleporter are spread across different planets and satellites, where you face various platforming challenges combined with puzzles and minigames.
Though the majority of the game is about platforming, there are only a handful of explicit and difficult challenges in that department. The platforming necessary to get from puzzle to puzzle is pretty mild and simple. Terminals throughout the game contain the puzzles or minigames, presented on a small window within the game. While some of these are self-contained puzzles, some require you to use clues in the environment elsewhere in the level. A camera within the game can take pictures of the game world, so you don’t have to take paper notes in real life.
The puzzles do their job of keeping the gameplay from getting repetitive, but the main platforming gameplay mechanic is actually under-represented in the end. The puzzles are sometimes compelling enough to stand on their own, but sometimes feel tacked on and too much like work. Nifflas’ other games are often commended for being relaxing and letting you explore, but it’s more difficult when puzzles provide constant chokepoints for you to overcome. But when you are given platforming challenges in Saira, most of that fluidity and purely fun gameplay come across just as it was in Knytt. That’s not to say it isn’t frustrating at times when the momentum doesn’t work out perfectly, but the challenges are pretty well-tuned in general.
The game provides an over-world (over-galaxy?) that allows you to choose between various levels to play, depending on if your space vehicle’s battery will let you reach them. Trips between stars take a small amount of time, and you’re allowed to listen to about six different “radio stations” in-game while you wait, or play a pretty entertaining modification of pinball. This choice between levels provides a little more sense of freedom and atmosphere, making a really nice addition.
In the graphics department, many in the indie gaming community have expressed their preference for the very simple (but beautiful) pixel art in Knytt over the mixture of photography with hand and computer-drawn animation in Saira. With their preference aside, the worlds in Saira are mostly very beautiful, and they all represent completely different atmospheres very successfully. The human characters, however, are stiff and generally not very human in their representation. Nothing in the main character ever shows any emotion, but she’s nearly detailed enough for us to believe that she should be. She’s caught between being a fluid animated character and a traditional pixel sprite in terms of emotion as well as technology. A little bit of immersion is lost there due to the character, but the worlds you play in do very well at counteracting that.
The music provides a great sense of atmosphere and stays consistently interesting throughout the game. The stuff on the fake radio stations is even more interesting at times, to the point that I’d sit listening to it beyond the time I could start playing the next level. You couldn’t ask anything more of the game’s audio.
One quick concern: This game is not as efficient and computer-friendly as Nifflas’ previous titles. You should try the demo before buying, and make sure that runs smoothly enough to make for a fun game. I experienced mildly irritating slowdown on the five or so screens that were most filled with animated sprites.
Saira is a beautiful game, and Nifflas deserves the money after giving away his classic creations for free. The puzzles are hit-and-miss, but otherwise this a fine example to represent independent games. It will be interesting to see where future Saira episodes go, both in terms of story and gameplay. There is a fair amount of gameplay here, and the game is worth your money, even if there are, of course, flaws.