Take a single look at Haiku in that image above. What an adorable little thing. Cutesy eyes, a soft, round body, and a curiosity that rivals a rambunctious child. You see that and automatically assume that Haiku, the Robot will be an atmospheric, casual game about exploration and interaction with friendly buddies. That would be the first mistake.
With a sort of disparity the likes of the Kirby series, this adorable robo-buddy also wields a massive sword and is well-equipped to massacre. Enemies are quick to attack, and bosses, specifically, are incredibly menacing. Despite such an unassuming lead, the entire world around it would wish for nothing more than its complete eradication. It’s up to Haiku to save the world from that terrible fate. And I’m more than willing to see that journey through, even if incredibly short.
Haiku, the Robot is available to play as a free demo between October 1-7 during Steam’s Next Fest. No timeframe has been provided for a full release.
Story – Ominous Animosity
Everything within this world is quiet. Not literally, but in a sense where words are hardly uttered. One can tell within minutes that most of what one will receive in terms of story are passing whispers and foreshadowing. Hardly any exposition, barely a chatty fellow to be found. It’s all lost to a world long gone. Though some remain, they only work to their specific occupations, whether detective or shopkeep… at least within the confines of the demo.
Most of what synopses for this game reveal use words such as “corruption” and “evil,” which, by standard definition, the bosses within embody. Though I’m inclined to believe that things aren’t quite that simple. “Secrets” is another word used quite often, with not much of anything other than “save the world” being used as coherent, narrative-based motivation. It’s a risky maneuver that implies the developer is comfortable and confident in their game’s ability to enthuse through gameplay alone. I respect that.
Still, there’s a notable eerie sensation while playing through the game that makes one wonder. Without a second thought, you’re demolishing things and collecting their bits and bolts as currency. Bosses are situated in solitary rooms and, at least for the first one, don’t bother you unless you begin the assault. Without sounding too robotic, why is Haiku fighting? Because it must? Because that’s all it knows? There are theories that could be spun in just the first hour alone, though who’s to say the full game will follow the same path?
Gameplay – Swordplay Shenanigans
Haiku, the Robot is a pretty straightforward metroidvania title with elements of advanced tactics via dodging and an temperature system that limits mobility if overheated. Vaguely reminded me of Feudal Alloy, only more combat-oriented. Most of what the demo will ask of the player is explore dozens of rooms, fight off some robotic specimens / a couple bosses, and collect some things. Generally what’s asked of in any other metroidvania title, only involving an interestingly titled protagonist.
Starting out, Haiku doesn’t have much at its disposal. A basic sword attack—just a single swing that one can spam again and again. Even after the 35 minutes I spent playing the demo, in terms of combat, it wasn’t particularly engaging. Even the boss battles, which were certainly tougher and more involved, didn’t tickle my fancy past the need to defeat them to further progress. I assume, of course, that this will change with further progression and Haiku gets fancier tools at their disposal. But for now, it could use a little more variety.
Mobility, on the other hand, is more promising. Again, starting out, it’s pretty basic jumping and platforming (though the jumps are rather bouncy). A specific upgrade, however, takes a simple concept and makes it thrice as fun to interact with the world. If that’s the kind of results after just one upgrade, I fancy to think what else could be obtained to make the world smaller. There’s definite potential in the enhancements to give the game a shot past the demo once the full release comes about.
A couple interesting gameplay mechanics revolve around Haiku’s internal processes. First is the repair function, which sacrifices some currency to restore Haiku’s health. Starting out with four total hits, one can take a few seconds to have Haiku self-repair itself, replenishing its hits back. It’s inconvenient during boss battles, which are generally fast-paced, but it’s a nice means of keeping oneself alive with basic exploration. A nice little fallback maneuver.
Second is the aforementioned temperature system, which fills up upon repairing oneself or dodging, which is rather self-explanatory. It’d be a little too convenient for the player to simply dodge at will forever, so the developer put a cap on it through the risk of overheating. Once at the boiling point, Haiku will move slowly and be completely vulnerable, which did not help me during the first boss fight. A nice procedure of requiring the player to keep tabs on their temperature, lest they get too ahead of themselves. In time, I was staring up at the corner just as often as staring at the boss.
Overall level design was generally solid, though perhaps a tad too simplistic—it’s the first 35 minutes, go figure. After a certain point, I grew tired of simply going through rooms and slicing anything that moved, so I came to simply enjoy the platforming. Alas, the currency that fell out of enemies was too much to pass up, just in case I wanted to spend it on shops or… anything else it may be good for. And it’s rather plentiful with enemy quantity, too. One will rarely find an empty room, outside those of plot-related importance, probably.
Difficulty, for me, was just about at the sweet spot. Traversing through standards rooms were rarely an issue, and enemies aren’t so aggressive that they become overwhelming. The true challenge comes with bosses, and I stress that Haiku, the Robot does not hold back with them. Featuring two phases with some very wide-ranged attacks, there’s quite a bit of memorization necessary to thwarting their patterns. Quick thinking and careful movement are essential. I did enjoy them for the most part, though they ultimately felt like small tests for something grander down the line. Such is the sake of a demo.
Graphics & Audio – Give Me Orange and Maroon
Most striking of all is the color scheme of the title. Properly assisting the eerie, mysterious vibe is the strict usage of its color scheme. Orange, maroon, black, and white, as well as the colors that reside within those areas. A borderline perfect rendition of a futuristic, likely apocalyptic atmosphere with little meaning behind it. Haiku may be cute in comparison, but the world it resides in is anything but kind.
I would comment on the soundtrack provided, but truth be told, I hardly remember. All I recall is ambiance, a sort of lingering growl in the background as Haiku trotted along without a care. It does bode well for the continuing, lingering uneasiness that the foreground communicates, though it’s perhaps just a tad too eager to not really produce anything. Boss music aside, it’s a very quiet approach, one without a lot of rhythm or consistency to keep one enthused. Almost fairy tale-esque, if that’s your preferred avenue.
What does have some juice to it is the combat presentation. While a little dull on its own, there is some tingling sensation involved with the shiny flashes of the sword swings, and explosions born from the final blow. Boss battles are often much more visually impressive in this aspect, too. Darkened essence flowing off of them like condensed, evil energy. Powerful attacks that send shockwaves coursing with power. Even Haiku’s damage animation is rather bombastic, with electricity coursing and its entire frame shaking. Haiku, the Robot certainly has little details to its animation and sound design that are appreciable. It’s just not always on display during the whole demo.
Haiku, the Robot was previewed via a demo available on Steam.