Metroidvanias have gone through a great revival in the last few years, with titles such as Ori and the blind forest, Hollow Knight, and Dead Cells dominating the scene. So, it is normal that more and more developers each day try their bit on the field. Jordan Morris, the creator of Mister Morris Games, is one of these developers, so he brought Haiku, the robot to life with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.
The game fits the classic Metroidvania style, with an enormous world to explore, lots of items to backtrack for and some great bosses to try and defeat. Yet, it has a lot of twists and unique properties that only an indie game could hope to achieve.
Story: Compelling but unsatisfying
Right off the bat, the game throws you into a post-apocalyptic world dominated by machines called Arcadia. Humans are nowhere to find and a virus is spreading through the world and infecting every machine. Then, you, a little round robot with a sword, must be the one to go out and fix everything.
At the start, this Metroidvania throws a bunch of lore in your face. You see an enormous nuclear explosion that took place 200 years ago and a small poem about the apocalypse. Later, a strange, unfamiliar voice awakens you and the game starts.
As you progress through Haiku, the robot you will learn that the story is way more complex than it seems. You will learn about what really happened in the past, how the virus was created and spread and you might get a spicy plot twist or two. However, at times, the story is confusing. You may feel you must have missed something that explains this or that or that you need to explore further to learn more about it. Some parts of the story are left for the player’s interpretation and others may just be missing…for now. In the end, you will have answers, but also a lot of questions, and doubts. The story will probably leave you awaiting for more.
Gameplay: Fluid, satisfying and complete
If something shines over other aspects of the game it’s the gameplay. I have to be honest, when I learned this was Jordan Morris’ first game I was skeptical; but, oh boy is the gameplay great. You get the Metroidvania basics: an attack, a dash, a jump, and… a ball? Yeah, well, maybe transforming yourself into a ball and rolling into oblivion isn’t truly basic. Anyway, the fluidity of the movement and the amount of options you have to move around and fight is pretty good. I would honestly compare it with Hollow Knight’s.
Of course, as you dive further and deeper into the game, you will unlock new moves (such as a double jump, or a wall jump) and these are quite balanced with enemy difficulty. Fighting feels amazing (even if you have only 2 attack options) and the bosses are pretty decent (although they might get repetitive after some point). And all of this system comes down to three things: your chips, your heat meter, and your spare parts.
Haiku, the robot’s Three-sided gameplay system
Your chips are your ability modifiers. They improve abilities in a lot of ways and are divided into three categories: blue, red, and green. Yet, they are not easy to find. You can find scattered chips through Arcadia; in its shops, darkest nooks, and most inaccessible platforms. Although they are so powerful they can decide fights on their own, even if you badly misplay them (believe me, I know). Chips allow you to play in your own style, at your own rhythm.
On the other hand, you have your heat meter. This is your ability “fuel”, you can use your abilities only below maximum heat. For each ability you use, you increase the heat on the meter. This includes healing, dashing, grappling, and exploding. The layer of difficulty this adds to the game is impressive. You have to think before using any ability and ask yourself “Do I really need to do this now?” The heat meter also “forces” you to look for alternatives you wouldn’t use, which is great. You can’t dash throughout the whole map, you need to use your ball, jumps, and grappling ability to be more efficient.
Finally, you have the spare parts. These are the only in-game currency and you gain them by killing enemies or hitting “altars” (which are basically treasures). Now, the interesting bit is that you can use them for either buying items or healing. Yes, you read that right, in this Metroidvania, you heal with your money. I guess this time both are equally important.
Graphics & sound: An immersive world that works without the music
Arcadia is a beautifully crafted world, but it wouldn’t be so unique if Jordan Morris hadn’t put so much effort into it. As you play, you can feel the decay of a robotic, apocalyptic world in every and each pixel. The spare robot parts on the floor, the faces of enemies, the bosses, the fading, past human world… Honestly, I could not express it better than the author did in Haiku, the robot’s press release:
Special care has been taken to handcraft every single art asset. Every frame is animated in a beautiful traditional pixel art style, reminiscent of Game Boy era games.
Have you ever wondered how Robots are made? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/j4Nkc8j50c
— Haiku, the Robot OUT NOW on Switch! (@MrMorrisGames) February 17, 2022
For example, in the GIF above you can feel the atmosphere without any music playing (even if you imagine some yourself). Morris has crafted an amazing world and a good, epic soundtrack would be very fitting. However, I have to say the music was quite underwhelming. The soundtracks were quite limited and similar to each other. Yet, most didn’t couple well with the different moments of the game.
Honestly, I am quite accustomed to the epic soundtracks of the top Metroidvanias, and maybe that played a part too. Still, the background music made me want to turn the sound off at one point in the game. Although I couldn’t do it, as the general sound effects are still pretty satisfying to hear.
Haiku, the robot, and Hollow Knight: How much inspiration is too much?
Haiku, the robot’s creator mostly based his game on Hollow Knight and the Metroid franchise, and that is no secret. Yet, how do we determine how much inspiration is too much?
While playing, you can notice Hollow Knight’s essence everywhere, but here are two relevant points of inspiration:
- Both games take place underground, but you can access its deteriorated surface and its shop. Also, there are three Arcadia “zones” which are very similar to Team Cherry’s Metroidvania: the Water ducts, the Forgotten ruins, and the Abandoned wastes. These places resemble Hollow Knight’s Royal waterways, Greenpath, and Deepnest. One could say “yeah, but a ‘water level’ and a green, life-full zone in an apocalyptic world are obvious choices” for the first two, and they would be right. Yet, the third can’t be saved. It is an obscure hell that asks you for a lantern and is full of enemies that dig between the rubbish, opening paths for you. Both are meant to freak the player out with weird enemies and noises, limited vision, and traps. Both have a weird, creepy boss and a fast travel option. I must also say both are horrible places and can burn in the deepest parts of hell.
- Hollow Knight is about a once wonderful and powerful kingdom that is now in ruins. A virus of unknown origin is destroying it from the inside. Of course, one of the citizens must end this torture and free the kingdom. Also, you need to “defeat” three leaders in order to unlock a vault that guards the “final boss”. Arcadia is about… well, the same.
I wouldn’t say either Metroidvania is exactly same, or that Jordan Morris copied Team Cherry, but I feel like I needed to point this out. In case you didn’t like Hollow Knight for whatever reason, this will not be your game. There are other Metroidvanias out there that you could play. On the other hand, if you loved Hallownest and its mysteries, you will gladly enjoy Haiku, the robot.