Review: Haiku, the Robot
If you spend enough time on Steam (and you do, because you found this review), you’re going to run across more and more games clearly inspired by others. It’s completely understandable, as most game developers are inspired to take up their art by deeply effecting games. Some devs forge their own paths, while others build on and iterate with the concepts that first inspired them. I get the impression that it’s easy for a lot of players to get hung up on “copies” and “rip-offs”, but I don’t ask much of a game inspired by others to stand on its own. This is a lot of words to say that yes, this is a game that closely follows in the footsteps of Hollow Knight, but brings enough of its own magic to absolutely be worth your time.
The land of Arcadia has surely seen better days, overrun as it is with decaying machinery and corrupted robots. Something has infected the mechanical denizens of this place, and there are few left with clear enough minds to remain peaceful. It’s into this conflict that our hero is dropped, a rotund little robot with a sharp blade and silent bearing. On the course of his adventure, he’ll explore different regions of this forgotten facility, uncover the history of a ruined world, and reveal the identity of the corrupting force behind the chaos. Of course, that also involves turning up a bunch of useful new powers for scooting around and bopping foes, as well as meeting some new and often mysterious friends tucked away in the corners of Arcadia.
“Unknown hero exploring a ruined land” is not exactly an original hook, especially for a metroidvania, but the presentation of Arcadia helps push thoughts of Dark Souls and Hollow Knight from the mind. The warm, detailed pixel art does a lot to lend Haiku its own appeal, and it suits the mechanical shapes and debris that make up the world. Everything from the enemies to the backgrounds are lovingly animated, too, so it feels like a place genuinely inhabited by its electronic denizens. I will say, though, that the further you get into the game, the more similarities you will find between this and Hollow Knight. There are two areas that feel just short of direct lifts, and while I don’t think that should really bother anyone, I know it will, so this is me warning you up front.
Combat and the power progression are sure to be familiar as well, but again they have their own quirks that help the game stand on its own. Your robot has a great big circuit board with super sharp edges, and swings it in a wonderfully complete arc that can sometimes hit enemies behind you. You’ll get a few other upgrades that can do damage, but this isn’t really a game about builds; you’re going to be doing the majority of your work with that improvised sword, and fortunately its enormous swing makes that pretty fun. Upgrade chips can be slotted into…you, I guess, that modify the way your blade and other abilities work. And those other abilities, while not packing any real surprises, are a logical and satisfying progression that will have you feeling far more mobile and capable by the end of the game.
The only other really notable element of Haiku is its difficulty, or lack thereof. A lot of modern metroidvanias lean hard on brutal balance or combat and end up being very Soulsian struggles to get through. Haiku is pretty much the opposite, a chill, undemanding adventure that leaves you plenty of room to make mistakes. That’s not to say there’s no challenge, as a few of the bosses around the end of the game definitely put me through some paces. But for the most part, you’ll be first-trying bosses and platforming all over Arcadia without much fuss. This does bring me to maybe my one real complaint about the game, which is that the fast travel system, incredibly charming as it is, isn’t laid out very conveniently for getting around the world. It’s a minor complaint, to be sure, but it’ll be more relevant if you’re particularly interested in 100%ing this one.
For me, Haiku ends up being a satisfying, low-key platformer that fits in well between more demanding games. The story is solid, with a few neat twists to throw your way as you work out more and more secrets. Even without that, though, it’s a compelling little world to explore and map out. The pixel art really does so much to make this one inviting, so if the art style really isn’t doing it for you, you might not get hooked quite as strongly as I was. Hopefully the similarities to Hollow Knight and other games won’t be a hang-up either, because there really is a lot of charm to be found here. Haiku doesn’t break any new ground for metroidvanias, but it treads a comfortable, satisfying path that I’m certainly glad I took.