Whether you’re a slightly more seasoned gamer with memories of the Broken Sword series, or a relative newcomer who’s found their love for the genre through the likes of Night in the Woods, there’s nothing quite like the casual yet immersive storytelling of a visual novel/adventure. So that’s why we jumped at the chance to play an exclusive demo of NAIRI: Tower of Shirin, a charming cartoonish tale that’s bound for Nintendo Switch later this year.
Made by Dutch indie developer HomeBearStudio, NAIRI tells the tale of its titular heroine, a young girl who finds her cozy life living among society’s upper class torn from under her while a criminal known as White Mask terrorises the poor district. She eventually teams up with thug-turned-scholar Rex as she attempts to make her way back home and uncover the mystery surrounding the Tower of Shirin itself.
The first thing that strikes you is its intriguing art style. Falling somewhere between a children’s story book and Bryan Lee O'Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comic series, there’s a wonderfully charming feel to its simple shifting animations. From the glittering sands of the deserts to the gloomy interior of a bandit hideout, you can’t help but appreciate the hand-drawn aesthetic that’s brought this whole world to life.
This being a visual novel, a good chunk of your time is spent in dialogue with other characters. Much of the inhabitants Nairi encounters are the anthropomorphised citizens of the city, ranging from vicious cats to oddball ducks. There’s even a kindly, father-like bear who attempts to help you escape the city when the game itself begins. There’s no voice-over, but with those aforementioned character designs and a good helping of dry humour, these extended chats rarely feel like a slog.
Navigation and interaction are more of a point and click affair, with plenty of items and tools to collect and add to your inventory. It’s a tried and tested setup for games such as these, and facilitates the puzzle-focused aspect of your adventure. Our hands-on with the demo - which saw us hiding away in a crate, only for it to be stolen and locked in the keep of a bunch of feline bandits - tasked us with escaping a barred cell and slipping through the grasp of our would-be kidnappers (or would that be, catnappers?).
Picking up a ceremonial knife on a wall enables us to cut away a tapestry revealing a direct way out, but its blocked by planks of wood too stiff to pry loose. There is, however, a hidden rope that might just open the door to the cell, but doing so will lock it permanently behind us. We know we’ll need to get back in here later since we’re so close to freedom, but that’s another puzzle we'll eventually have to solve as well.
There’s a clever use of environmental clues and items to help guide you to secret passages and further rooms in your location. For instance, a map on a table in the middle of the hideout shows its general layout, but you can’t take it with you so you’ll have to memorise locations or pop back to check. There’s also a note beside a door requiring you to find a set of buttons and press them in a certain order to reveal a new room. These puzzles aren’t particularly taxing, making it an attractive prospect for younger players looking to try their hand at a visual novel/point and click mashup for the first time, but there's still plenty of scope for this head-scratchers to gradually increase in complexity as you push further into the story.
Overall, we quite enjoyed our brief time with NAIRI: Tower of Shirin. Its middle-eastern-style setting makes for an evocative backdrop, and while its point and click gameplay might not be the most revolutionary, the broad mixture of puzzles and the strength of its characters and dialogue comfortably sells its visual novel roots. We didn’t get a chance to test out Joy-Con support, but the developer promises both controller and touchscreen controls when it eventually arrives on Nintendo's hybrid machine.
NAIRI: Tower of Shirin will be making its own adventure onto Nintendo Switch soon. Did you enjoy this little glimpse into this new Switch-bound indie? Share your thoughts with us below...