Haiku the Robot is a Metroidvania-style game made by Mister Morris Games where you’re trying to stop an evil virus from corrupting the underground world of robots. If you’re looking for a light action-platformer with colorful pixel art visuals to spend your weekend on, this may be the game for you.
The gameplay is your standard Metroid/Castlevania style game: start with minimal powers and strength and increase it throughout Haiku, making you backtrack to hidden areas you weren’t able to reach before. I used a controller during my seven hour playthrough, and the controls were pretty solid, besides the fact that you get stuck facing the wrong way if you're using a joystick. There is a slight problem when you first open up the game: none of the computer controls are assigned automatically. I’m not sure you can change the controller layout, so I was fine there, but anytime where the game said to use a button to perform an action it said “error” because there was no key assigned. Very strange that there weren't assigned keys to start with. It also ruined the mystery about what moves there was going to be.
The moveset is almost a complete rip from Hollow Knight, actually almost the whole game is. Obviously the levels are different as well as the art, but the main premise is basically a copy. That’s not to say it’s bad, however, it just feels more like a fan game. There are some things that make it different, like how you can heal a lot easier, as well as save your money better. It also doesn’t do the terribly annoying thing of having you retrace your steps to get all your money when you die (which I thank it for). That mechanic does make Haiku a lot easier, however. It’s no way as brutal as Hollow Knight.
One of the difficulties of creating a large world to explore is making it believable. Playing through Haiku I’m left with more questions than answers. The main storyline is simply “Nuclear bomb went off, so…robots.” There isn’t much to the story at all, and the connection with the main character is paper-thin. Why is my name Haiku? Where did I get this sword? What is my purpose in the world? With a small game compared to other Metroidvanias, each location should be hinting to the player of a hidden story. The biggest motivating factor with Metroidvanias is mystery. There needs to be enough motivation for me to backtrack somewhere, whether that’s where the next bit of story is, or that I have new powers, or a mixture of the two. Due to the lack of narrative, it’s difficult to create scenery that emphasizes the story. This might be a situation you can find in most games where backtracking is prevalent, but there was a good amount of time I spent aimlessly wandering around. There’s an awkward space within certain areas of the world that really needed a train I could quickly get to. Maybe to save some wandering I had tokens I could place on the map to remind myself to go back to those areas? There’s equipment that hints at important things I haven’t explored yet, but just seeing a question mark doesn’t tell me if I have the ability to explore that place.
While the story left me wanting something with a little more substance, the overall game was good. There were just a few things that decreased the game value slightly. The game is a Kickstarter game, which isn’t necessarily special or bad, there are many games funded by Kickstarter. Haiku just feels obvious and more like fan service at times. Within the world you talk to some friendly robots that give advice or add to the narrative. When you talk to them, their name shows up and underneath it gives a small description of what they do. If a Kickstarter backer named the robot, though, that person’s name appears underneath the robot’s name. Seeing this breaks me from the game and brings me to reality. In this game world you wouldn’t see human names because there are no humans left. There is also a bug where if you’re using the elevator in the factory area and jump off your character still gets pulled down and glitches through the world (this is a Unity programming problem where the player game object is being set as a child to the platform game object. I would either make a trigger right above the platform that releases the player if they jump away from it, or not allow the player to move at all and make the elevator move faster).
In all seriousness, though, the art is wonderful. A lot of time was put into creating animated backgrounds that made the world come alive. The boss art was also interesting, and there was a theme of every character having an evil face. The character design was unique in the sense that there were objects that you wouldn’t expect to be a robot, but still felt like a part of the world (for example, the tire creatures). The music/audio on the other hand was too much. In Hollow Knight, the scene was ominous and creepy. I feel Haiku was wanting to achieve the same mood, but there were multiple kinds of ambiences, music, and world sounds that distracted itself from the gameplay. The general mix in the audio was poor, with the sound effects too loud on top of the ambience. The sounds also glitched when opening the map/menu sometimes, making them go on too long and stop when the game was resumed.
To summarize: Gameplay is standard for most Metroidvanias, especially compared to Hollow Knight, it was just shorter and easier, but still enjoyable to play through. The story was near nonexistent and some design choices broke me from the game. Art was well put together, with each area having its own theme and color palette (I’m a sucker for good pixel art). Audio could have used a bit more tweaking and programming, but I still got the general sense of what the mood should be.