While the first Syberia game may have arrived on the Nintendo Switch a full fourteen (ish) years after its initial PC release, its point and click legacy has no doubt been felt since, and there have been a few decent modern examples - such as Thimbleweed Park and Violett - on Nintendo's hybrid system. Not to be outdone, the second instalment has been released in time for the winter season, and is both a familiar but also rather different beast.
Despite showing its age in some areas, Syberia is regarded as a classic of the point and click adventure genre, and with good reason. It stands out as a fantastical yet very human story of loss, family and personal conflict with a set of intriguing characters, an enchanting setting and an increasingly mysterious story to unravel. Syberia 2 comes to Switch mere months after the original, with the third instalment due early in 2018.
If you are unfamiliar with the first game, there is a short recap outlining the events surrounding Kate Walker and her struggle to deal with her professional life as well as her infatuation with the quaint, secluded town of Valadilène and the solemn downfall of a family's mechanical toy business. After the mystery starts to unravel and she achieves her primary objective of tracking down the factory's sole heir, Kate opts to all but abandon her increasingly stressful urban lifestyle and continue to become acquainted with the eccentric and reclusive Hans Voralberg.
The focus now shifts to Kate aiding Hans to achieve his dream of reaching the mysterious Island of Syberia which has been an obsession of his for decades and - wouldn't you just know it - is inhabited by giant mammoths. Accompanied by Hans' automaton creation Oscar, Kate attempts to travel from Romansberg by train to a clifftop monastery in order to help the ailing Hans, which proves to be an increasingly challenging task involving indigenous locals, thieves and even the titular giant beasts themselves. With the emphasis on aiding an NPC rather than the player pursuing their own objective and discovering more about themselves, there is a different dynamic to the way the game's narrative plays out this time around. The local inhabitants - known as the 'Youkol' - were hinted at in the first game, but play a more prominent role here, with the story touching upon ideas such as the occult and alternative medicine. The plot is not as immediately resonant as it was in the first game, as it mainly concentrates on the relationship between Kate and Hans, leaving behind the mystery and family-centric story from the first game.
As a result of her decision to escape from her professional pressures, the use of Kate's cellphone - which was a key plot device last time - is pretty much disregarded. The phone calls are sparse, brief in length or just ignored completely. It is also clear that Kate has adapted to her new group of friends as well as the setting, with a dry wit expressed in the excellent voice work that adds spice and creates a meaningful bond between the main characters.
Technically, Siberia 2 is noticeably better-looking at first glance, despite some of the more remote locations lacking much diversity. The pre rendered backgrounds and scenery are gorgeous, sharp and bright. The remote, unique and organic architecture - particularly the indoor environments - is beautifully lit and realised. Structures made of bone and natural materials are both rustic and intricate. There's also an increase in detail to the character models themselves, but they are a little stiff in motion. Unfortunately, the display options from the first game return, providing either black borders or a blurred effect either side to accommodate for the aspect ratio; this sadly affects the performance, and niggling issues with collision and glitches between shots remain. Moving in one direction from scene to scene will result in some frustrating transitions, with the option to use touch controls hindering the experience even more. As an alternative, you can opt for the game to take up the whole screen and deal with everything slightly stretched, but it does run smoother.
While the puzzles have been tweaked to make them more accessible - such as removing a few stages and adding hints or visual cues - some of the items to be found are frustratingly easy to miss due to some mostly decent but sometimes odd camera angles. The familiar point-and-click adventure workload of 'find correct object for the task' or 'talk to the right person to get a hint' isn't deviated from, but the flow of the game can be affected by the inconsistent scenarios that flip flop between the insultingly obvious to obtuse and beyond cryptic, sometimes boiling down to a systematic process of elimination, trial and error or backtracking over logic. Still, the experience is relaxing and serves as a welcome change of pace from the usual Switch releases.
The tone and subject matter of the Syberia games thus far have felt like looking through a keyhole to a bygone era, almost resembling a C.S. Lewis novel. It is true that a certain degree of mystery that made the first game so engaging does take a back seat here in favour of a more personal quest-like journey. It also feels like you are slightly distanced as the facilitator this time round, despite the odd heartfelt moment.
Syberia 2 is a curious animal, as it improves on, but is also inferior to the original in a few ways. It is shorter (about seven hours compared to the original's ten), and players new to the series will have the classic first instalment reduced to a short prologue, so ideally you should experience that in full first. The environments look great, despite their age, and the flow is helped by more streamlined puzzles, even if the fluctuating difficulty of the odd one or two borders on incomprehensible. Syberia 2's shift in narrative focus and end goal might not meet fan's exact expectations, but that is mainly due to the strength of the first outing. This is a relatively more straightforward but still interesting second part of a series that still has an enchanting setting, likeable characters and a surprisingly layered story. Despite its ongoing technical hiccups, along with the game having done the rounds for well over a decade, it's still a worthy sequel and a good addition to the genre on Switch.