QCF: Nairi: Tower of Shirin

 believe that I may have spent more time thinking about writing the review for Nairi: Tower of Shirin than I had played the actual game itself. Not that the game is easy, at least in my opinion; its puzzles had me scratching my head on several occasions. However, the reason for the delay in writing this review is that although I genuinely like this title and its blending of point and click adventure and visual novel, glaring issues in controls, game design and it’s anti-climactic wrap-up has me thinking twice about recommending it to Switch owners.

Nairi is brought to use by HomeBearStudio, a small Dutch game developer who brought Nairi to Kickstarter in 2016 where it was successfully funded. The title was released on PC and the Nintendo Switch at the end of November this year. The player controls Nairi, a curious young girl looking for any chance at adventure and escaping the isolation of her prosperous upbringing. Our heroine finds just that when a sudden apprehension causes her to go into hiding. She stumbles into several groups of shady humans and anthropomorphic animals living in the lower class, far from the towers that she once resided. She later meets Rex, a rat and amateur scholar who helps her on her quest to get back home. The pair will utilize the environment around them as well as clues to piece together an ancient mystery that may change the course of everyone’s lives.

The art style of Nairi is charming, each scene jumping off of the screen as a water colored animation from a sketchbook. The characters were memorable, cute with each displayed emotion and interaction with Nairi. This is by virtue of the visual novel aspects of the game, which is pulled off more effectively than most of the titles of that genre have been in some time. Where the title feels insufficient is in the mechanics of its puzzle solving. Let it be noted that the review copy we received was for the Nintendo Switch, which I have to imagine was not considered as the lead platform for the release. A title of this genre would be suitable for a keyboard and mouse, the touch screen of the Switch just is not control setup that I could endorse. Unfortunately, that was the only option I felt was favorable when struggling to interact with the world and completing puzzles. It worked against the enjoyment of the narrative in such a way that I had to walk away from playing for a bit and try after frustration faded from my mind.

I suppose that my experience with point and click adventures is limited, especially with anything prior to the Telltale takeover of the genre before that bubble popped. However, I would hope that previous entries of this style did not suffer from so much backtracking and unclear direction. I spent so much time going back and forth between different parts of a town that I prayed for some sort of fast-travel option. At least some way to fast track the navigation to get to areas that were necessary for the story to progress. It was a burden that I did not foresee since visual clues in the world and convenient conversations would bookmark the next action or interaction that would need to occur to solve a puzzle. In playing the game it seemed that the developer was attempting to make the game seem like there were multiple paths and various ways to proceed when that was not the case, and the player is left with treading the area over and over. One mechanic in the game was collecting gold coins that can be found hidden in the environment and was then used to complete one objective. I was collecting coins for the rest of the game, and never found out if they did anything else. Condensing some of the mechanics and loose-fitting elements of the gameplay would have helped in not feeling like it was such a chore to complete each objective.

The last sets of puzzles in the game were ambitious, with a mix of Fez-like level manipulation and even some light translating thrown in. At this point in the game, I felt like this would be the ultimate test of my puzzle game savvy and competence. Eventually, my progress brought me to a gripping moment in the story, which would show if Nairi and her newfound allies would have the determination needed to overcome the odds. Then the credits appeared; it was such a hasty and unanticipated wrap to the game that I had feared that part of the title was still downloading onto my Switch. Sadly, there was no next chapter and players will now be forced to hope that either a sequel is released, or the game is supported with add on content. For the $9.99 price point, I would sincerely hope for the second option, because what was provided did not feel like a complete product. With no voice acting and little to no soundtrack to speak of, HomeBearStudio hopefully will allocate the time to release more to flesh out the narrative and finish the story that so far has been the saving grace of this entry.

To conclude, Nairi: Tower of Shirin is successful in painting a rich depiction of a children’s storybook about the young girl who fights against all odds to become an unlikely hero with an even more unlikely group of friends assisting her. The art is tattered by poor choices in design and pacing. This release would be better played on a PC, the ability to control on the Switch just feels forced and clumsy. I will look forward to exploring more of this precious parable, perhaps on a different platform.

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