LifeisXbox’s Zorya: The Celestial Sisters review | Zorya, as we’ll henceforth call it for shorthand, is an asynchronous co-op puzzle game where each player has to take on a specific role. You either play as Aysu, the goddess of the night, and walk around the level to pick up pieces of your scattered powers, or you play as Solveig, her solar sibling who supports her from the skies, by changing the direction of the sun and, as a logical consequence, the shadows on the map that provide safe passage.
It’s important to note that the game is almost impossible to play on your own as the two players will need to work together in tandem to solve most of the game’s puzzles. So find a friend, roommate, or loved one and hand them the second controller, because you’re going to have to rely on each other to see this one through.
NOTE: Zorya: The Celestial Sisters seems free to play in stores, but this acts kind of like the “friend pass” you may know from other games and lets the 2nd player join in for free, the main player will need to buy the “Zorya: The Celestial Sisters ™ Full Game” DLC to play beyond the first levels.
ℹ️ Reviewed on Nintendo Switch | Review code provided by Indie Game Collective, this review is the personal opinion of the writer.
What we Liked!
- Visually appealing | When you play Zorya on a single screen with the other player on another Switch or on the computer, you’ll really appreciate the care that went into the character designs and you’ll find it pleasing to look at. But sadly, this wasn’t the set-up I used for most of my playthrough… more on that later.
- Cross-play | It’s actually quite impressive to see an indie title that offers cross-play between multiple platforms. One person can play on the Switch while the other person plays on PC (or another Nintendo Switch system) and this is actually the recommended playstyle, provided you’re in the same room or are using a headset to communicate (which is notoriously difficult to even set up on the Switch)
- The story | While the sun & moon are cliché opposites, the story does work here with the goddess of the night always literally standing in her sister’s shadows. The narrative is also told through lovely hand-drawn art and with decent voice acting. Definitely a highlight of the game.
- Short levels | The short levels make this perfect for a pick-up-and-play type session where you agree to play one or two quick levels with your co-op partner, but unless you are living together, that will more often than not be a challenge: finding someone to play with at the same time as you.
- Split-screen | I would advise against playing this on the small Nintendo Switch screen with two JoyCons. The screen space is too tiny to further divide into two halves and the JoyCons held sideways are not ideal for adult hands. That being said, that’s a problem you can easily solve by playing it on the big screen or each using your own device. With split-screen, many of the details get lost that make this game nice to look at. Though obviously, it is a great thing that they included the option.
- Controls & Camera | The benefit of playing with split-screen on the other hand, is being able to look at the screen of the other player. As the sun goddess, it can be vital to pinpoint an enemy to blast with your rays and you’ll need to ask the moon goddess to turn her camera to help. It works, but it can be a bit confusing.
What we Disliked
- No checkpoints | Levels are very short, but I still would have liked to see some checkpoints at a halfway point, especially in the later levels, because having to replay a level from scratch each time got annoying fast. And since you’re playing with two people, it’s enough for one of you to become annoyed and that being cause to end the session.
- Puzzles can become difficult early on | Now don’t get me wrong, the concept is easy to grasp, but you’ll need two people who are somewhat familiar with playing games, my 7yo daughter and wife who both rarely play games had a really hard time with the controls and finding the solution to each level. Especially because there often wasn’t an obvious viable path to walk with Aysu.
- Waiting waiting waiting | As Aysu, you’ll often have to wait until Solveig is done scouting each level and testing what activating the beacons does or how the shadows should move. It can quickly become boring having to wait for the other player to handle their next piece of the puzzle.
- Nintendo Online pop-up | every time you boot the game, you can get error messages like “not connected to the internet” or “Buy Nintendo Online” which is annoying as the game can be played in local split-screen without any online needs. It would have been more logical to keep those pop-ups for after the player has chosen to play online co-op.
If you read through the above points again, you’ll notice that most of my issues were caused by my set-up and honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to begin to solve these as the developer. Asynchronous co-op gameplay will always remain a huge challenge to design for.
How long to beat the story | Honestly, I have no clue. I was not able to beat the game or find people willing to play through the entire game with me. But guessing from the number of levels, I’d say ~3-4 hours if you’re good at puzzle solving.
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Robby lives and breathes video games. When he’s not playing them, he’s talking about them on social media or convincing other people to pick up a controller themselves. He’s online so often, he could practically list the internet as his legal domicile. Belgian games-industry know-it-all.