During a hands-off preview event for Zorya: The Celestial Sisters, I claimed that it would be the next best co-operative experience since It Takes Two and Portal. Baring in mind that I only watched a few levels from the developer’s perspective, this was nevertheless a bold claim. However, having now played the game for myself, I can understand why I believed it would be. While not perfect, Zorya: The Celestial Sisters is by far one of the more ingenious and creative cooperative games I’ve had the pleasure of playing.
“The decision to give each player a unique perspective was ingenious.”
One of Zorya: The Celestial Sisters’ most impressive elements is its stunning art style. Its cutscenes are filled with spectacular art that beautifully brings to life the mythos of its world. Additionally, the 3D environments that you explore throughout each level are brimming with detail. The cold, dilapidated structures that you navigate through contrast perfectly with the game’s colourful tone and dynamic lighting. It creates a beautiful and vibrant aesthetic that fulfils the game’s narrative and thematic promises.
Additionally, the decision to give each player a unique perspective is both phenomenal from a gameplay standpoint and from a visual one too. The toybox isometric aesthetic of Solveig’s viewpoint is mesmerising as it truly offers you a godlike perspective on each environment. In contrast, Asyu’s third-person perspective proves to be more dynamic, allowing you to survey the map in far greater detail.
“It is a magnificent accomplishment to have so successfully balanced the playstyles of both characters.”
This perspective shift also benefits the style of gameplay you’ll experience but the longevity of the game too. As Solveig, you’ll solve puzzles from a top-down viewpoint and cannot access buildings or affect anything shrouded in shadow. You’ll therefore be required to manipulate the sun in order to cast new shadows or extend current ones. Conversely, as Asyu you’ll only be able to manoeuvre or affect things found within the limited shadows. Your goal is to reach the Essence Fragment at the end of each level.
This dynamic between the two characters makes for incredibly challenging yet immensely satisfying cooperative gameplay that requires genuine communication and results in an exhilarating experience. Both characters are reliant on each other, ensuring that no one is left waiting for their turn in the spotlight. It is a magnificent and commendable accomplishment to have so successfully balanced the playstyles of both characters and made them as engaging as one another.
“Zorya: The Celestial Sisters is a lengthy and rewarding experience that will keep both players entertained for quite some time.”
The varied levels across the expansive constellations found in Zorya: The Celestial Sisters bounce between being brisk and compellingly challenging. While some levels took us upwards of twenty minutes to solve, others were completed within minutes. This ensured that the game never stalled and was constantly progressing at an energetic and lively pace while still maintaining an enjoyable level of difficulty.
Additionally, each constellation introduces a new mechanic to keep the gameplay feeling fresh. However, it rarely complicates things, as a strong balance between complexity and easy to grasp gameplay is consistently maintained. Fortunately, should you fail a level, the time it takes to reload is so minuscule, you’ll rarely mind restarting.
With additional gems to find hidden throughout each level and the opportunity to play as either character, the longevity and replayability of each level is considerably high. This makes Zorya: The Celestial Sisters a lengthy and rewarding experience that will keep both players entertained for quite some time.
“Certain issues in Zorya: The Celestial Sisters can make puzzles feel far more complex than they need to be.”
Unfortunately, Zorya: The Celestial Sisters is not a perfect experience despite its lofty ambitions and plethora of creative and at times ingenious achievements. While the shortcomings of the game are few and far between, they can be quite disruptive. The main culprit is the game’s inconsistent rule surrounding how long Aysu can remain in the sun. Whenever she leaves the shadows she’ll be hurt by the sunlight and eventually killed.
In some instances, leaving the shadows for less than a second resulted in Aysu’s untimely and unfortunate death. However, other times Aysu seemed to be able to bask in the sun for upwards of five seconds seemingly unaffected. This discrepancy quickly becomes a noticeable and significant issue as there are numerous occasions in which you have to leave the comfort of your shadow to enter a new one.
It can make puzzles feel far more complex than they need to be. It constantly makes you question each of your actions and doubt whether or not it is indeed the intended path. This level of uncertainty ostensibly adds a leap-of-faith-esque moment to many of the puzzles. Additionally, due to the fact that upon your death you restart the entire level, this very quickly grows frustrating.
“Zorya: The Celestial Sisters is a truly phenomenal game that features genuinely fulfilling gameplay.”
However, while certainly annoying, it rarely detracted from the overall amount of fun I had playing Zorya: The Celestial Sisters. Its unique setting, compelling narrative, engaging and challenging gameplay and stunning visual style more than made up for its minor quirks. This delightfully charming game stands out amongst the litany of other co-op games as being both immensely creative and enjoyable to play.
I’m hopeful that it will be held in the same regard as the seminal co-operative experiences that came before it. It is a truly phenomenal game that features genuinely fulfilling gameplay and an enticing level of complexity rarely found in video games. Its intoxicatingly addictive gameplay loop ensured I was never bored, and its binge-able levels playable from varied perspectives kept me coming back for more.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.