Point-and-click adventure games have historically found their audience on PC, especially in the heyday of the early-to-mid '90s with series such as Broken Sword and Monkey Island. While there has always been a core fanbase for this style of game on mouse-driven systems, the genre has been brought into both the console with recent remasters of classics such as Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. This expansion has resulted in a handful of modern takes on the formula, ranging from episodic, story-driven titles such as Broken Age and the dialogue-focused Telltale games, to this year's Wwitch releases Violett and Thimbleweed Park - the latter being a throwback (and spiritual successor) to Lucasrts' fan-favourite Maniac Mansion.
Not to be left behind, the Syberia trilogy, created by Benoit Sokai, makes its way to the Switch after a fifteen year stint as not only one of the most well-received PC genre titles, but also as one which has seen release on several other systems, including a rather sub-par DS version in 2008. While the quality of these ports have varied thus far, the Switch's ample hardware specs - combined with its portability - means that there is potential for this to be the best iteration.
Syberia at its core is initially a pretty standard point-and-click affair. During your adventure, you will explore various environments, talk to different characters and find inanimate objects in order to solve puzzles and progress through the story. Influenced by the work of early 20th century pioneering French film maker Georges Méliès, the game mixes mild fantasy and science fiction elements, but starts out as a somber tale explaining the decline of a family business. You play the role of young American attorney Kate Walker, sent to the quaint and secluded French village of Valadilène on behalf of her law firm to finalise the takeover of a mechanical toy (automaton) factory after the death of destitute owner Anna Voralberg and the disappearance of its sole heir and genius inventor, Hans. The company Kate represents has the monopoly on the toy business and tracking down Mr. Voralberg is imperative as the business can not be taken over without his approval. Kate delves deeper in to the village's - and the factory's - history by meeting various residents and explores the increasingly desolate and remote landscapes of the European and Russian wilderness in search of clues as to Voralberg's whereabouts.
The unraveling of the plot and the depth of characters are highlights of Syberia. The protagonist has the difficult task of balancing her increasing intrigue for the Voralberg family with her professional obligations and personal relationships. There's an interesting exploration of many different contrasts, including technology and the conflict between urban and rural life. As the game progresses, you'll come across an increasingly mysterious and enchanting locations in search of Hans, as well as more abstract and mystical scenarios. Granted, the point-and-click genre might not suit everyone's taste in terms of mechanics or pacing, but the overall experience is rich and engaging, while the puzzles - despite being a little obtuse - are more accessible than other similar titles.
From the get go, the art direction, string-based theme music and voice work are all great, but the game's mechanics expose its age. Despite the story being in a contemporary time period (circa 2002), there's a distinct Dickensian feel to the world. The antiquated newspaper clippings and the mechanisms of the robot toys (although don't ever call them that) have a rusted aesthetic consisting of springs, cogs and the sounds of creaking old metal. While the art nouveau, industrial architecture and steam punk-like automatons - along with rich colour palates - give the village and other areas a sheltered and intriguing atmosphere, the game's technical presentation does let it down in places. The backgrounds alternate from being crisp and sharp to blurry and ugly. The character models are, on the whole, pretty good but the lip syncing from the PC version is absent.
Particularly jarring examples of this uneven presentation come early on; a completely static background of a bridge over a river or a stone fountain are both accompanied by the sound of running water despite the lack of movement, for example. You'll be moving around interior and exterior environments set to fixed camera angles, while controlling Kate with full 360 degree movement as opposed to 'tank controls' feels natural and reasonably responsive, including the option to run (by holding down a trigger) that adds welcome pace. However, looking around and using objects or performing actions can be cumbersome, as you are moving the character around as well as looking for the right direction. The inclusion of a touch-based option for item management (brought up with Y or the bottom right hand icon on screen) is oddly patchy. Tapping 'R' brings up your trusty mobile telephone, but you can only scroll through contacts with the touch screen, not input numbers.
Furthermore, the game is not optimised to fit the Switch in either TV or handheld mode. The 4:3 aspect ratio option is dealt with by having translucent extensions of the scenery or black vertical boarders, and in both configurations the resolution differences are obvious - the FMVs in particular look very blurry. The other option is full screen, where everything is stretched. It's an unfortunate catch 22.
Syberia on the Nintendo Switch is a reasonable yet inconsistent port of an enchanting genre classic. This is an absorbing, intricate story filled with melancholy, eccentric characters and mystery demands and deserves attention, even if the game shows its age technically in some places and demonstrates a lack of care in the porting process in others. For fans of the genre, or those willing to dive in and forgive some inconsistencies, there's an endearing and worthwhile adventure here.