NAIRI: Tower of Shirin is a heart-warming tale of faith, family, and fate. You follow Nairi, a young girl from the rich district who has been thrust from her life of luxury and must find her way home. Woken in the night and told to flee for her life, your job is to piece together what’s happening in her world. Along her saga of hardships she meets Rex, a scholar with a shady past, who becomes her loyal helper. Together, you must try to return Nairi to her family, but it won’t be easy.
NAIRI: Tower of Shirin is filled with sinister subplots and a wealth of twists. In fact, considering the adorable art style that illustrates it, the game is surprisingly mature – both in terms of theme, and difficulty. The world HomeBearStudio has built for NAIRI is incredibly deep, and there’s so much more that could have been discovered. I won’t spoil anything, but there is ample opportunity for the Developers to revisit the world of Shirin. I can’t wait to see if they bring out a sequel, because I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
Made with Love
HomeBearStudio have an incredible ability to make you feel for the characters they’ve created in NAIRI: Tower of Shirin. Bill, a young duckling that just wants to fit in, filled me with genuine pity; while Omar, a rotund feline who loves snacks, was just plain adorable – though I can imagine others may find him to be a little cloying. Every character you meet feels unique; they all have their own story. Fetch quests aren’t just a hollow story-progression device; they help you understand the poor creatures’ motives and desires. They will usually give you a good reason for fetching something, leaving you feeling more like a helper than a blackmailed adventurer.
During dialogue, characters will have a few different expressions. It was often genuinely impressive how much emotion could be contrived from these anthropomorphic expressions. Although the occasional reused look didn’t quite match what the character was saying, this was easily forgiven for how spot-on they looked during the majority of their sentences. Even if you’re not familiar with animal behaviour, furrowed brows and drooped ears will shoot empathy through you like an arrow; I just wanted to give them a cuddle!
NAIRI: Tower of Shirin is a point-and-click adventure game, heavily featuring puzzle mechanics. The majority of your time will be spent moving between environments, searching for clues and items. Sometimes you’ll be looking for a means to escape, and sometimes you’ll just be looking for scrap to trade for your next plot-progressing item. The story is told through a Studio Ghibli-esque art style, with cute, quirky cutscenes and pages of dialogue.
The controls are right at home on the Switch – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cuter controller layout diagram, have you? You can use the Joy-con’s analog stick to move a hand cursor around the screen, which will change to a magnifying glass if you can interact with something, or an arrow to move to a new locale. Using the L or R buttons will slow down the cursor speed for some fine manoeuvering, and the A and X buttons progress dialogue.
Alternatively, when playing in handheld mode, you can use the touch screen to physically press what you want to explore or interact with. Personally, I found it was easiest to use a combination of the two methods. Some puzzles worked better with the touchscreen, but it was also nice having the cursor to indicate when there was something for me to inspect.
TOUGH, BUT FAIR
It’s tough trying to reach a strict conclusion on NAIRI’s difficulty. On the one hand, it’s not guilty of trying to hold your hand through simple challenges; it respects your intelligence. Nevertheless, it sometimes feels as though the game should have been more explicit. It can be very frustrating, feeling like you’ve collected every piece of the puzzle except one, only to find out you already have everything you need. There is no final clue or item; the game thought you could figure out the last missing link on your own.
Some of the puzzles can be real head-scratchers, and they often have to play out in a specific order. For instance, I couldn’t drill a hole in a wooden wall, right away. First, I had to attempt to put a screw into the wood first, so the game could prompt me to find the drill – which was already in my possession. Even though it was obvious, I needed to use the drill on the wood, I couldn’t physically force that interaction until I’d tried the wrong item.
Fortunately, you can use Rex’s handy journal in the bag menu to get some helpful clues. Though it won’t outright tell you what to do next, the visual clues are pretty easy to understand, most of the time. Aside from this, I found the game could be a little too specific with what it wanted me to do. Rather than letting me tie some rope to a windowsill, it wanted me to drag the rope over to the open window. This was probably a case of me overthinking the problem, but I still wish it were a little more forgiving in these moments. There’s an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when you finally decipher a tricky puzzle, though, which keep your spirits up throughout your journey.
The music is simple and tranquil, often consisting of just a stringed instrument or two, with some ambient background sounds. At night, you may just have hoots and cricket chirps to cut through the rustling of leaves in the wind. But in the day, you can expect tambourines, sitars, and woodwinds, galore. They lay the ‘desert’ theme on thick, but it accompanies the story well. My favourite was Syl’s gentle guitar melody in the bar – I could listen to that for hours.
The sound effects were mostly unobtrusive, though you may grow weary of the ‘moving stone’ audio clip, if you’re stuck on a few puzzles. The chirps and trills of successfully completing a brainteaser are delightful, however, and never grow dull.
Visuals & Performance
I loved the artwork and visuals of NAIRI: Tower of Shirin. The chibi-meets-Ghibli aesthetic works wonders for the animal characters, and the expressions were incredible. I particularly liked seeing a character’s demeanour change once they got the item they needed. Bill went from sulking to happily chugging down a drink, and a lonesome wolf perks up considerably when you give them food. These small details, combined with the impressive work done on expressions, coalesce into a game that is just a joy to look at.
On the performance side, the game ran crisply in handheld and docked modes, though I did encounter some bugs. Occasionally, I would run into soft-locks that halted my progression. Fortunately, after speaking to the lead developer, I’ve been assured that these have been caught and patched out in the latest version of NAIRI: Tower of Shirin, so you lovely people should have nothing to worry about!
This is probably the best point-and-click puzzle adventure I’ve played, wrapped up in gorgeous graphics, but it’s not without its flaws. I think buyers should make sure they have a guide on hand if they like the look of NAIRI, but aren’t quick-witted, perceptive thinkers. Don’t let any of the negatives put you off, if you’re a fan of the genre or art-style.
HomeBearStudio should be heavily commended for the work they’ve done on NAIRI: Tower of Shirin, especially as it’s a two-person studio! I feel it just about hits the sweetspot for value, taking 5-6 hours to complete – give or take an hour, depending on puzzle-solving ability. However, my game time was artificially inflated by me getting stuck numerous times, which I can see being too frustrating for some to want any more out of it. Though they could have delved much deeper into Shirin’s lore, I think the playtime matches the £7.19 GBP / $9.99 USD pricetag nicely. As I mentioned in my preview, it’s also great to see price parity between Nintendo Switch and Steam versions.
Creative, immersive world
Finicky at times
Difficulty can be a burden