Home > Adventure, PC, Platformer, Puzzle > Saira [REVIEW]

Saira [REVIEW]

Saira: released December 12th, 2009
Developer: Nifflas
Platforms: Windows

Recently I’ve been on a mission to try and find some new MetroidVania style games. It happens fairly regularly, at least once a year, where I’ll go in to Metroid mode and I’ll just have to fire up Super Metroid or Metroid Fusion and get it out of my system. This year is different though, because this year I don’t simply want to revisit the old classics. I’ve been putting a lot of time and effort in to the indie gaming scene for a while now, and I know there are some potentially top shelf MetroidVanias out there. The last one I played was a fantastic retro style game titled Hero Core that blended the freedom and exploration aspects of a MetroidVania with the combat mechanics of a shmup. Hero Core was an awesome game, but this week I believe I’ve latched on to an even more impressive game, and it goes by the name Saira.

I will say right off the bat, Saira doesn’t exactly fit the bill for a MetroidVania title. It eschews the combat and confrontational enemy encounters of games like Metroid and Hero Core in favor of pure exploration and puzzle solving. In addition to not possessing any kind of combat, you also don’t really power-up or gain new abilities as you explore the game world. Still, despite all that Saira feels like a MetroidVania game. Instead of one great big, interconnected map to traverse and explore, your character uses a spaceship to visit various solar systems. If you ever played Mass Effect, you should actually be quite familiar with how this works. You essentially have one big star-map that shows the various solar systems that are available for you to visit. Then, provided your ships battery has enough charge, you can then fly to that solar system and visit the (usually two) destinations that reside there.

Something else you might remember if you played Mass Effect is that despite the vast number of planets available to visit, they didn’t really feel very different. Almost like you were exploring the same exact place over and over again with a slightly different layout. This aspect of the planetary exploring does not hold true for Saira. Granted, Saira has nowhere near the number of potential destinations as a game like Mass Effect, but I’d definitely go so far as to say that the various planets, moons, and space stations you can visit in Saira are all significantly more varied and, in their own way, more interesting, than any of the potential destinations in Mass Effect.

Each planet, moon, or space station you visit has its own theme and style. There’s green and forested areas, a planet covered in toxic gas, some long abandoned ruins, a charred and burning wasteland, and of course a frosty, snow covered tundra, and that’s just off the top of my head. Each area looks unique, and it keeps the experience fresh and exciting. One of the most important aspects of a Metroid game for me is the sense of wonder you get from exploring your surroundings. In Saira, every time you land somewhere new, you don’t exactly know what to expect, and that’s awesome! Saira really makes you feel like you’re exploring new lands and there’s an inherent mystery that stems from this that makes each new area feel like an interesting discovery.

Not only are each of the areas different visually, but the style of puzzles you’ll solve change from place to place as well, though admittedly they are all presented in mostly the same fashion. In most of the places you’ll visit there’ll be computers of some kind and you’ll need to solve their puzzles in order to solve the mysteries of whatever area you’re in. Though the presentation remains the same, the puzzles themselves are all varied enough to keep things interesting. The puzzles start off simple enough, but there were definitely a couple of times where I felt like slapping the developers across the face for presenting me with such brain busters. They can get challenging and you will need to use your brain to make it through some of these.

Not all challenges in the game are presented by way of computer bound puzzles though. The gameplay in Saira is tight, and there are many areas in the game where you’ll need to put on your platforming shoes and stay on your toes to survive. Chasms you’ll need to leap, tiny platforms you’ll need to land on, walls you’ll need to run up and rebound off of, etc. If you’ve ever played a Mario game or perhaps Super Meat Boy, the platforming challenges presented in Saira will be nothing new, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. Your character feels light and quick, and it’s a blast running, jumping, and wall-hopping around the various solar systems. Many times in platforming games you can just feel if your character controls right, and I can absolutely say that the controls in this game felt spot on.

Another interesting aspect of the gameplay is your character’s in-game camera. Many times there will be codes or important information hidden in certain areas of the levels that you’ll need to make a note of for later on. When you find these areas, simply whip out your camera and snap a picture for later! One area even presents you with a scavenger hunt of sorts. It’s a type of puzzle solving that differs from the brain twisters in the other levels and promotes exploration to try and solve the problem. Stuff like that is what keeps Saira feeling fresh and interesting throughout the entire experience. You’re not just solving brain teasers and you’re not just challenging your platforming skills, but you’re also having to explore and at times document your surroundings.

As far as the visuals go, at first they may seem a bit simple or crude, but as your time with the game wears on you’ll grow to appreciate the variety in the level designs and the interesting areas that contribute to the overall alien feel of the game. In the story of Saira, almost every human being has completely disappeared without a trace, and the visuals do a lot to make you feel truly alone in the universe. Wherever there were signs of human life, they’re now over-run with nature and wild life. The designs really do grow on you and I’ve come to love them immensely. One detail in particular that I thought was pretty cool was that your character’s outfit changed depending on what area you’re visiting. You’ll have different hats, goggles, outfits, etc. As if the variety of the areas themselves wasn’t impressive enough, even the appearance of your character stays fresh throughout the game. Details like these really help set the mood for Saira, like you’re not just playing a game, and the character you’re controlling is really alive and scouring the galaxy for the parts to this device she’s trying to build. Having her clothes change may seem like a small detail, but those small details are what make games like this really come to life.

Finally, one of the aspects I was most blown away by, was the sound design. I am a self-proclaimed Metroid fanboy, and I am not ashamed to admit that. The Metroid games are all about atmoshpere, and one of the key factors in providing this atmosphere is the sound design. The sounds present in Saira are sparse, but what’s there is absolutely perfect. When the music chimes in it’s very “spacey” and has such a dreamlike quality to it. It’s calm but entrancing, even if it is only there for brief spurts. When the music isn’t present, all you hear are the sounds of the planet you’re on and your feet hitting the ground as you explore the desolate world. Again, it all works together to create this feeling of being in an alien, unexplored territory, and to me, that is absolutely one of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether or not a game merits being called a MetroidVania or not.

The last MetroidVania I played (Hero Core) was fantastic, but Saira totally blew it away in my opinion. This game may not have the hostile wildlife or scattered, hidden power-ups and abilities of a Metroid game, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t still give me that same feeling of being alone on an alien world, or in this case galaxy, exploring the unknown. And you still have total freedom to visit the various locales in whatever order you please. If you like, you don’t even have to visit all of them! Once you have the bare minimum to finish the teleporter you’re building, you can return to the beginning planet and finish the game. Of course, this will result in you getting a poor ending (damn right there are multiple endings!), but the point is that you have the freedom to make that choice if you please. Games like this are why I wanted to start reviewing indie titles in the first place. The gameplay is pitch perfect, the atmosphere is effective, and the game has enough variety to keep things thoroughly intriguing throughout your entire experience. I could not stop playing this game from the moment I picked it up, it was that damn good.

Saira is available through Steam for $9.99 and it comes highly recommended from me. Whether it’s a MetroidVania game or not may be debatable, but the atmosphere and overall quality of Saira is absolutely not debatable, so if exploration and platformers are your thing, check this game out asap!

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