Saira: motor skills required

leaping away through purple red haze

Sprinting across the surface of a far flung planet Saira flows smoothly forward, the cool atmosphere streaming past her face. Picking her way over the rocky landscape each of her strides explodes with a liquid power propelling her rapidly toward a towering rock face and surrounding spires. The purple red light of a nearby star saturates the surface of the planet and cracks and crevices suitable for handholds can be seen littering the dark vertical rock ahead. Turning a stride into a leap Saira springs and lands several metres up the rock face, immediately pivoting to leap upwards again onto the side of a nearby rocky spire. Back and forth she vaults until her fingers stretch over the top edge of the rock face and she hauls herself up onto the summit. From her high vantage point the purple red tableau of the surrounding area stretches out in front of her, dotted with spires, boulders and cliffs, but also with numerous cave entrances as well. Launching herself down the rocky slope at a dead run, Saira's head swivels in search of the next spare part she needs for her teleporter; hidden somewhere nearby.

Saira is a game of movement. It is obvious that a great deal of effort went into crafting the grace and flow of the characters animations and it is a true pleasure just to run and jump around the game world. Little surprise then that this is the core of the gameplay, Saira is a platform game without a doubt and one that emphasises non-combative challenge. Climbing cliff faces and exploring underground cave mazes is the mainstay and enemies are simply a deadly sort of thing to be avoided. With this in mind you won't have a hard time believing that some good motor skills are required to complete the game, however Saira isn't too difficult and things don't get particularly hard until near the end. I would recommend that you get your hands on a gamepad for playing Saira though, a keyboard just doesn't cut it.

Saira and here friend

Saira and her friend

The story for Saira is interesting and delivered through a series of still images accompanied by text. Additional pieces of storyline are delivered periodically and as the game progresses it's actually quite engaging. The premise for the game is that Saira used an intergalactic teleporter to visit her sick sister but when she stepped out at the other end all the people in the universe had disappeared. She could only find one other soul and they are separated when he accidentally teleports to another universe. The aim of the game is to help Saira gather the extra parts she needs to construct a teleporter capable of sending her to her lost friend. To get the extra parts you need to travel to other nearby systems and investigate the planets there, exploring them until you find what you need.

Exploration is a main theme in Saira. Each planet you visit is set up so that you have a starting point and you just go out and explore the world to find clues and parts for the teleporter. It's refreshingly non-linear and to add to the effect there is no set order for completing the various planetary systems either. This non-linearity contributes to Saira's laid back feel. Got stuck? Then just head somewhere else and explore a new planet. There's no pressure to get anything done, all you have to do is just have a climb and jump around and see if you can find anything. Did I mention that running and jumping in and of itself was fun? To add to the fun of exploring, each planetary system has it's own distinct and memorable look and feel along with unique gameplay elements. This fleshes out the game world and makes going to new systems something to really look forward to.

a programming minigame

a programming minigame

Exploration and movement in Saira are great but they wouldn't be as engaging if there wasn't a third prong in the gameplay to hook you in. The third prong is the mini games and challenges. When exploring a planet the goal is to find a missing part for the teleporter. In order to do this you need to unlock doorways and other obstacles by completing mini games or challenges. Mini games are a varied range of cleverly constructed logic puzzles, tricky but not so hard as to be frustrating. Challenges can either be a timed obstacle course or some sort of information gathering task. Scattered throughout the planets are clues, passwords and hints to information gathering tasks. These are visible on screen and when you find them there is a feature that lets you take a photo of it. Part of the premise of the story is that the character Saira is a photographer, in game this translates into the picture taking ability. These photos are basically a convenience method for remembering the clues and even though it's just a convenience it does work really well as a gameplay element.

As a first impression Saira comes off as a somewhat plain looking game, the first system is quite drab and in general things look to be of low quality. This illusion fades as you progress through the game however, as later levels bring colour to the fore and well focussed artistic style gives each planet it's own personality. In complement to the art the music in Saira works well. Laid-back housy beats really contribute to making the game a relaxing experience and perfectly fit the atmosphere of the game world.

If there is one criticism of Saira that could be made it would be that it plays it a little bit safe. Once you understand that there are systems with planets and you progress by completing mini games and challenges there aren't too many surprises to be had. That being said Saira executes very well on it's chosen gameplay, the puzzles are enjoyable and the character movement and exploration equally so. All in all Saira executes very well on what it set out to do, if you like platform games and puzzles make sure you give it a play. Hell, even if you don't I'd still recommend giving it a look.

a good game filled with puzzles, quality platforming and lashings of exploration
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