Title: Nairi: Tower of Shirin
Release Date: November 29, 2018
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Hound Picked Games
I’ve always been fond of adventure games, from classics like Monkey Island to more modern “adventure” games like TellTale’s earlier titles. When I was pitched Nairi: Tower of Shirin, the impressive art and charming characters were what really caught my eye, especially with
Nairi stars the aptly named Nairi, an upper-class young woman whose life drastically changes when her family home is attacked. As she’s smuggled out of the city, Nairi is caught and kidnapped by a charming band of cat bandits, who quickly transition from kidnappers to furry friends. After getting to know the cats, Nairi decides to go back to the city to return to her family and figure out just what’s happening to her. She meets lots of wacky characters along the way, but the story feels like it’s missing an actual conclusion.
Without spoiling too much, Nairi and her mouse friend, Rex, end up at the top of the massive Soluna Tower shortly after learning about what Nairi might have to do to essentially save the world. Suddenly, a minor character shows up, has an emotional meltdown that doesn’t really land, and kills a character out of nowhere. Then we get an ominous update on Nairi’s parents, and that’s it, roll credits. It’s such an abrupt and jarring ending to the story that I felt as though I must have missed something. To call it a cliffhanger would be an understatement, as the story abruptly stops at what feels like the end of its second act.
It’s a shame, because Tower of Shirin’s story, up until the ending, is quite charming. The characters are largely likable, and the parallel stories of Nairi and Shiro, while not used to their full effect, has a lot of storytelling potential. I especially liked the cat bandits from the beginning of the game, as each had their own distinct personality and dynamic that made them feel like a real band of thieving pals. Had the game continued its story naturally or ended on a less forced cliffhanger, I would have been far more invested in the narrative’s eventual payoff. As it stands now though, I’m more confused than interested. Maybe the inevitable sequel can change that, but it’ll be fighting an uphill battle to do that.
Tower of Shirin’s gameplay is pretty standard for an adventure game, as you’ll primarily be talking to people, picking up items, and solving puzzles. Most of the puzzles make sense and are challenging enough to be enjoyable, giving you a genuine sense of accomplishment once you’ve solved one of the trickier ones. These puzzles are normally presented as a sequence of exchanges that are tied together in some way. One segment has you buy laxative lollipops and glue for some aggressive ducks to get them out of your way. They give you back the lollipop sticks, which you use to glue together a “cool” hat for another duck so that he lets you into a bar, where you’ll later use the hat to bribe yet another duck. As goofy as it sounds, there is typically an easy-to-follow series of events that keeps puzzle-solving fun for the majority of the game.
On the other hand, many of the puzzles in the game’s last temple area are borderline nonsensical. You have to use various dictionaries, notes, and ciphers to make sense of a simple button-inputting puzzle which, to be fair, could be a fun approach to puzzle-solving. The lack of clarity in these later puzzles makes what could be a neat and challenging mechanic into a somewhat confusing slog.
This isn’t helped by how much backtracking you have to do to go between puzzles, which hampers the game’s pacing quite a bit. On more than one occasion, I found myself having to go back and forth between two different locations that were multiple screens apart from one another just to look for an item or minor detail that I may have missed. There’s no fast travel option, which
Tower of Shirin was funded through Kickstarter, so I can completely understand why the game has a “V.I.P. Room” with portraits of the top donors in it. What I don’t understand is why this area is implemented into the game in such a weird and forced manner. The room is run by a mouse merchant who, upon his introduction, complains about how poor he is as a result of gang shakedowns. Moments later, this mouse shows you his lavish secret V.I.P. room. It’s even guarded by the goons that robbed the mouse in the previous scene. They try to explain this as the mouse receiving money from his supporters/patrons, but the thin explanation doesn’t change what is just a strange scene that brings the game to a complete and awkward halt. I’m sure the patrons could be implemented in a far more natural way, so I really can’t understand why Tower of Shirin went about showing its gratitude in such a confusing and story-breaking way.
There’s a lot to like in Tower of Shirin though, outside of its ending and some gameplay blemishes. The writing is pleasantly quirky, the characters are all likable, and the art is adorable and, at times, gorgeous. The settings and backgrounds are remarkably detailed, the music is subdued and relaxing, and the way that background characters are animated is rather impressive. Tower of Shirin really excels in the art and sound departments, as they’re a major part of the game’s appeal. Its length, which is anywhere from 2-4 hours, is perfectly satisfactory for the game’s price of $9.99.
So while Nairi: Tower of Shirin has its flaws, it’s still a visually stunning and charming adventure game at its core. The last quarter of the game falls apart, both in narrative and gameplay, but the writing, characters, and puzzles for the first three-quarters of the game are quite enjoyable. If you can look past the very messy finale of Tower of Shirin, you’ll find a very charming and visually appealing adventure game. If you can’t, then you may be better off with some of the genre’s more consistent offerings.
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