So my plan to have a quick play of the Saira demo turned into my whole morning. A new game from Nifflas is a reason to sit up straight and start downloading. The creator of the gorgeous Knytt Stories has created his first commercial game, and it’s a rather beautiful thing. For those familiar with his previous games – tiny slivers on the screen, creating platforming worlds with the barest few pixels – you’ll be pleased to learn that while it’s technically a lot more advanced, it remains completely true to his themes and style, and a lot more involved.
You’re one of the very few survivors in the universe, it seems. Equipped with a spaceship and a teleporting device, you must visit a series of planets in a collection of galaxies, each containing challenges and puzzles, along with a consistent platform design that lets you leap, climb and bounce through smartly laid out floating rocky platforms. The movement lacks the wonderful Knytt double-jump, but instead you can briefly run up walls, before bouncing off them again. There’s also the occasional ability to turn into a ball of barely controllable light and zip off in an otherwise unreachable direction.
Each galaxy has at least one planet with various tasks to solve, puzzles to decipher, or time-based challenges to complete, and another planet containing energy for your ship, thus allowing you to travel elsewhere. Then there’s a camera to take photos of puzzle clues with, your in-built teleportation system to work with, and a larger puzzle of building a more complicated teleporter on your starting planet with parts found elsewhere in space. This is all for the overall goal of finding your missing buddy – perhaps the only other survivor of whatever terrible thing killed everyone else.
It’s tough. Splendidly tough. Some of the puzzles span across multiple planets, and involve spotting tiny details, applied logically. The platforming itself also requires a deft hand. Especially one timed sequence turning on a series of devices in the correct order. I almost broke down completely in rage at myself and the sadly rather stupidly mapped keyboard controls before finishing that one. And sadly they are very stupidly mapped. Movement is on the cursors – all good. But then you have your camera on A, but also the zippy light flying thing on A as well, so long as you’ve jumped first, which is S. And then D, D will use machines or activate your PDA and lets you activate checkpoints. Trying to open your PDA to teleport to the last checkpoint, to discover you’ve just selected the one near to you – that’s not a great moment. And the number of times I pressed D instead of A when trying to fly – ARGGH! The other big niggle is the inability to control a skid. If you’re running in one direction, hitting the other direction hard doesn’t stop you from falling off ledges, which in a game that requires some pretty precise jumping is infuriating. If I’ve hit the key in time, at least let me not slide off.
However, those irritants aside, and mostly they are just an aside, this is a really special thing. Nifflas has an amazing skill with platform design, and it’s lovely to see that applied to something that – while still 2D – is bigger, more detailed, and absolutely lovely. The design is splendid, merging paper-crafty characters and aliens against rendered backgrounds and really clever use of perspective. And this is all just in the demo – it’s enormous. Pay $17 (£10.16) and there’s another three galaxies to explore. Definitely check out Saira – I’ve a sneaking suspicion you’ll fork out for the full game once you’ve spent long enough in the huge demo. In fact, if you do you can spend an extra £1.20 and get a second serial code for a buddy.