Saira

Saira is an explorer. Three years ago, she was a photographer, working to take pictures of exotic and dangerous wildlife. She is brave and athletic, able to leap from rock to rock without hesitation. Her eyes are trained to notice things hidden in the world around her, and her hand is steady as she takes each picture. She can scramble up air shafts, dodge hungry wildlife, and hazard cruel environments to achieve her goals.

Saira is a character piece. The latest game by Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren (available on Steam) is focused on the eponymous character, and controlling her has a distinctive feel. This game is more Flashback than Mario: Saira has momentum. She takes some time to change directions on the ground, and while the player has some air control, she cannot turn around in midair. Saira can scramble up walls, but this is not the nimble scurrying of a small animal; it is a limited ability, one that serves to squeeze the last few feet out of a jump. Saira is fast, but slow to turn. She moves in one direction: forward.

Saira is a technician. She was not always one; there was a time when she could depend on professionals. That is not to say she was technologically illiterate; she plays games to pass the time in space, and is intimately familiar with her photography software. Now, though, she has learned to fix her own ship with tape and elbow grease. To build a teleporter from scratch. To restart a planet’s neglected power system and make it hum again. To navigate a facility that claims to need no maintenance for its leaking steam and dripping plasma. With only a prototype analysis tool and her wits, Saira can fix things, because she must.

There are puzzles in this game. Terminals contain minigames; the player is asked to solve logic puzzles, answer quizzes, write simple programs, and assemble riddles. To some, this may detract from the platforming. But Saira is not about platforming; it is about Saira. Saira is a clever person who builds things and fixes things because there is no one left to do it but her. Most of the puzzles are simple, with a built-in hint system, but they offer an intellectual challenge all the same. Saira is not just an explorer. She is a problem-solver. She does not find the parts she needs; she earns them.

Saira is lonely. Three years ago, she became the only human in the universe… save one. To paraphrase Stephen R. Donaldson: the only way to hurt someone who has lost everyone is to give her back one person and then take him away again. Saira found a friend, and lost him again. She knows where he is: at the other edge of the galaxy, in unmapped space. Forever away. For two years, she has focused on one thing: seeing him again. Her journey will be one-way. She doesn’t care.

Like many of Nifflas’s games, Saira is atmospheric. The glowing, hazy parallax backgrounds combine with a dreamy soundtrack to create a bittersweet beauty. There is other life here: some is harmless, some is hostile, and some sustains Saira in hazardous environments. But none of it is intelligent. None of it can talk to her. All around are reminders of the people who are missing: rusting circuitry, discarded e-mail terminals, and athletic games without players. There are mysteries, too: a statue that looks far too familiar, monuments made from giant objects, and a crashed spaceship that is impossible to reach. Saira is the only agent in this world, the only one with purpose. All other things either sit there, waiting for her to interact with them, or wander aimlessly and only react to Saira’s presence. Saira kicks up grass and dust as she runs; one gets the feeling that her footprints are the first to be made in a long time.

Saira is about its main character. It is about this person the player controls, who is searching and learning and clever and brave. Many games are about a story, or a gameplay conceit, or a place. This game is about a person who is reaching out for the only other person in the universe. This game is about Saira.

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5 thoughts on “Saira

  1. The trailer looks great, and your thoughts make it sound even more interesting. When I can afford it, it shall be bought and played.

  2. I just played through it, and it really is nicely done. The in-flight radio and wonderfully non-euclidean pinball minigame were also a nice touch (though I managed not to notice it till near the end). I’m beginning to suspect I’m a sucker for cut-scene rewards and easily accessible alternate endings.

    But there is one complaint, focused solely on the ass move of placing the checkpoint after “Level 4” in an easy to die spot – which forces a rerun of a gauntlet. Oi; that one blindsided me. But otherwise, the game is fairly merciful and pleasant, and such an event was repeated only once earlier.

    Since only one episode is out, I’m hoping there really are more to come!

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