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Sanya review

Sanya review
Johnny Nys avatar image

This lovely, challenge-free side-scrolling adventure shines brightest as a charming nostalgic reflection on childhood

Ah, the joys of youth. No responsibilities, freedom to play, and a whole world to discover. That’s exactly how Sanya made me feel. However, this cozy, whimsical 2.5D side-scroller didn’t completely blow me away, since its sweetness can’t hide the lack of much depth or a near complete absence of challenge. It’s a simple story about a seven-year-old boy who finds not only a puppy he lovingly names Pumpkin, but also some new friends after his family packs up and moves to a new town in the 90s Soviet Union. Its different quests, puzzles and mini-games kept me solidly entertained, though only for a short two hours.

Sanya has a storybook vibe to it, with beautifully painted backgrounds and characters that seem to have jumped straight out of a pop-up book. The titular young protagonist is an endearing little boy with wavy brown hair, wearing blue sneakers and blue overalls over a tiger-striped shirt. Accompanied by laid-back, feel-good guitar or more swinging rock ‘n roll tracks, you move Sanya horizontally with WASD or the arrow keys. (Thankfully you can hold SHIFT to run, since some locations can be pretty large.) 

The environments show lots of animations, like swaying grass and trees, Pumpkin the dog running all over the place but always returning to Sanya when you move too far away, and several secondary characters hanging around the neighborhood. You can interact with Sanya’s new friends Sam, Eve and Artyom, but also “Uncle” Tolya and “Uncle” Kolya tinkering with their respective automobiles, Katya the shopkeeper, and a couple of teenage girls who fall in love with little Pumpkin.

Early in the morning, Sanya is having trouble waking up, so he turns on the TV and you can even change channels – some shows will make him doze off while others will excite him. Pictograms will start floating around his head, indicating random thoughts you can click on for a bit of commentary. These will tell you about Sanya, his family and their current situation, before you start off exploring the world.


Genre: Adventure
Presentation: 2D or 2.5D, Side-scroller
Theme: Coming of age
Perspective: Third-Person
Graphic Style: Stylized
Gameplay: Action-Adventure, Puzzle, Quest
Control: Direct Control
Game Length: Short (1-5 hours)
Action: Platforming
Difficulty: Low

There’s not much to the story of Sanya, however. It’s divided into three short time frames – morning, afternoon and evening – each with its own specific tasks. These are depicted as a sort of mind map of drawings with hover text explaining them, which you can consult through the “Thoughts” button in the main menu. In the morning, you have the opportunity to please your mother by cleaning up the house a bit, then make a suitable dog collar for Pumpkin. In the afternoon you’re sent to a nearby store for some groceries, after which you can play hide-and-seek with your friends. In the evening you’ll be dared to venture into the creepy woods, reputed to be inhabited by ghosts, to spend the night there.

Each time frame also has optional quests, such as getting your two grumpy neighbors to overcome their differences, or finding something to trade with the loner Stas, who sits in his makeshift tent out in the vacant lot behind the apartment buildings. When you’re about to move onto the next part of the day, a prompt will ask you whether that’s okay, or if you have some unfinished business you want to handle first. If your mind map is still missing some drawings, there’s still something left to do, though it’s not necessary to complete the game.

There’s only an autosave function, and when you quit the game it tells you how long it’s been since the last checkpoint. As far as I could tell, Sanya saves when you change locations. But with such a short game with such undemanding tasks, even yours truly had no need of a manual save function. It would’ve been handy to reload a saved game and try again for the optional achievements without having to start over from scratch, though.

As you guide Sanya in either direction, hotspot icons will appear when he’s close enough. You can examine things or pick them up, depending on their function. Throughout the game you can acquire quite the collection of random items, including anything Pumpkin digs up later on in the game, for which there doesn’t seem any real function. You can access your inventory through the pause menu, but that’s only to look at your stuff; you’ll never have to click and drag in order to use it anywhere. When you need to hand something over to an NPC, Sanya will do so automatically during the flow of the conversation. 

Sanya isn’t voiced, but text balloons appear over the characters in a style similar to text messages on your smartphone. The text moves upward, but you can scroll the entire conversation down again if you want to review what’s been said. You can take your time the first time through, though, as there’s no auto-advance, so you have to click to continue the conversations. There are some dialogue options here and there, and also a couple of choices to make, but nothing world-shattering. You’ll always see the same story unfold, as the different options are there to unlock achievements. The English translation could have used another proofreading session, unfortunately. Grammatically it’s all quite correct, but there are many typos and recurring spelling mistakes. 

There’s a logic puzzle in which you have to organize your toys according to a set of “rules,” which is simple but quite enjoyable. Because it appears very early in the game, I was hoping for more puzzles in this vein, but sadly it’s the only one of its kind. Instead, the developers went for a collection of varied little mini-games. Some are fun, like the bike race where you have to pedal by rhythmically clicking both mouse buttons, while others are frustrating, like the platform jumping that seems to play completely in Sanya’s imagination as he’s trying to cross a river, which demands quite some dexterity. There’s one task I completed only with a little luck: You need to buy the right kinds of bread from a shop, but you see only drawings of different loaves without text labels. I had no idea what rye bread looks like, to be honest, so I had to guess between a couple of contenders and got it right. 

Final Verdict

While there’s a fair bit to do in Sanya, I waltzed through it all so easily that it never felt like enough. Most gameplay elements are fun, but they’re over so quickly I wanted even more of them, like additional logic puzzles or giving Pumpkin new commands. Others, however, could’ve used some fine-tuning or even full redesigns, like the river platforming sequence. Failing any optional mini-games won’t impede progress, but still might tempt me into a second playthrough. I want to win that bike race! Artistically this a very beautiful game, and though the narrative is quite simple, with such a short story it does what it sets out to do: telling a small, personal tale of a boy and his dog, wanting to be accepted by the neighborhood kids. Perhaps this is a game best suited to younger players, and yet if you don’t mind breezing through its very simple tasks, even adults can revel in the nostalgia of a carefree time when they still played outside and weren’t glued to their smartphones. 

Hot take


Sanya’s very simple gameplay won’t challenge anyone over the age of its young protagonist, but even for adults, this quaint, lovely side-scrolling adventure is like a nostalgic trip back to childhood. 


  • Beautiful hand-painted storybook artwork
  • Varied gameplay elements keep the simple story interesting
  • A feel-good, relive-your-carefree-childhood, cozy exploration experience


  • A very short, easy adventure with not much meat on its bones
  • Errors in the English translation
  • Clumsy platformer mini-game briefly disrupts the flow

Johnny played Sanya on PC using a review code provided by the game’s publisher.


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