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Nira review for Nintendo Switch, PC


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PC
Publisher: Graffiti Games
Developer: Baseline Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

Here’s the problem that Nira faces: it’s a procedurally generated sandbox survival game with lots of crafting and very retro-looking graphics. Does that description not remind you of something else? Or maybe a few something elses?

With that kind of competition, Nira needs to do something interesting or different to stand out. Given that just about all it offers are visuals that try to be even more retro than games like Minecraft and Terraria – and little in the way of interesting gameplay – it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t do that. I mean, it’s neat that Nira wants to give you a Minecraft-type experience with Atari-level graphics, but that’s not enough to make a compelling game.

Mind you, even if we lived in a world where Minecraft or Terraria never existed – or Don’t Starve, for that matter, since that’s another major influence here – Nira still wouldn’t be that interesting or enjoyable.

Part of the issue is that there’s a pretty steep learning curve, and the game doesn’t do much to help you climb that curve. There are pop-up tutorials every few moments right after you start the game, but they don’t do much in terms of telling you what you need to do. Rather, they’re more like lengthy infodumps that may or may not be associated with what you’re doing at that moment, and that come at you so quickly that you’re not likely to remember any of it.

Likewise, the game sets objectives for you, but doesn’t give you a lot of clarity as to what they mean – Nira may tell you that you need to pick up sticks or features or logs, but good luck figuring out how to find any of them. Similarly, it tells you to create things like a shelter, but then you discover that you need to pick up an absurd amount of resources just to create a door or a window, and again, you’re left wandering these procedurally generated islands, hoping you’ll stumble across what the game wants you to find.

This latter complaint points to another issue: the retro graphics actively work against you. The game wants you to pick up pieces of wood, but is that small square on the ground a piece of wood from the tree you just chopped down? A rock? Something else entirely? It’s never clear, and Nira doesn’t feel much like explaining any of it.

In terms of steep difficulty, there’s also the issue of some enemies being way too aggressive and powerful. In particular, you need to stay far, far away from water, since the sharks are very strong and very fast. The thing is, you’re on an island, so you can see how it might be difficult to avoid water. On top of that, you lose everything you’ve picked up after you die the second time (the first time, at least, Nira is nice enough to give it all back), so your weak character will spend a lot of time grinding and re-collecting resources to make up for everything it just lost.

To be fair, of course, some people like games precisely because they don’t hold your hand, and those people may enjoy the challenge of Nira. If you’re fond of very old-school graphics, too, Nira is unquestionably gorgeous, to the extent you could’ve called an Atari 2600 game gorgeous.

But if you want something to take over a Minecraft- or Don’t Starve- or Terraria-shaped hole in your life, Nira isn’t it. It aims high, and clearly has some great influences, but it can’t seem to meld them all together into something worthwhile.

Graffiti Games provided us with a Nira Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: C