Haiku, the Robot
Developer: Mister Morris Games
Release Date: 16 January, 2015
Platform: Windows, OSX, Switch
By Chris Picone, 05 July 2022
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of this game.
Haiku, the Robot is a metroidvania where you play as a robot in a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has been wiped out and machines are all that remain. The premise is somewhat cliché; a virus has swept through the land, corrupting most of the machines, and your job is to defeat the virus and free the creators, but the story’s delivered well through snippets found throughout the world and the gameplay’s awesome so we can forgive that. Haiku is Mr. Morris Games’ first game and it’s a pretty damn impressive debut into the industry.
This is the one area where Haiku is slightly lacking. As I mentioned, the story is delivered well; as you explore the world you pick up snippets of lore through dropped notes, by talking to the world’s quirky inhabitants, and even through cleverly designed backgrounds and levels where the setting tells its own story. Throughout the game you slowly uncover the mystery of what happened to the planet and to humanity and the machines but there just aren’t really any surprises or depth to it, and although our own actions have an impact on the world (destroying the virus, freeing the creators), we don’t really get to see a lot of that impact on-screen and there’s not much of an epilogue. So the story that’s there is good and delivered well, it would just be nice if it went a bit deeper and there was a little more of it.
Pixel perfect. Haiku is highly stylised to portray an almost cartoony “cute robot” theme while also demonstrating gritty and highly detailed backgrounds and level design – and it nails both. All this is executed through top quality pixel art, creating an authentic retro feel while still feeling totally original. The soundtrack also hits just right, adding to the retro feel, the atmosphere as you’re exploring, and the intensity when you’re battling.
This is where Haiku shines. If you’re looking for that great old-school metroidvania experience, that’s exactly what’s on offer here. It starts off feeling like a platformer as you jump around the place killing baddies and collecting loot from their corpses but Haiku’s stunning artwork and fast-paced combat means you quickly find yourself sucked into the game and just kind of climbing around the places trying to see what areas you can get to, and to see what happens next.
Like any metroidvania, there’s tons of backtracking as you pick up new upgrades and equipment or make changes to the environment that opens up new areas that weren’t available before – but each upgrade also provides you with new options that allow you to change your play style and keep things interesting. You’re limited in how many and what kind of upgrades you can take at any time too, at least until you unlock a few more slots, but this lets you change your little robot into melee, speed, explorer, or ranged builds and look for different interactions and synergies between your upgrades, which is always fun.
Haiku is a little easier than most entries in the genre but still offers plenty of challenges, both in terms of navigating each room trying to find secrets while avoiding traps, obstacles, and baddies, and also some intense boss fights. And there are some fantastic boss fights; they’re quite flashy with the bosses utilising lots of special moves and introducing new mechanics or challenges you have to adapt to defeat. While most of the actual baddies are just easy loot, you can expect to die and retry quite a few times against the bosses until you either work out the sequence or find the right strategy or loadout to beat them.
Fun Factor / Replayability
I found Haiku really addictive. Maybe it’s that little dopamine hit you get every time you pick up some new upgrade or unlock a new ability, or the constant sense of achievement every time you manage to break into some map that you previously couldn’t reach, or the feeling of achievement when you finally manage to beat one of the tougher bosses. I don’t know but it’s pretty damn fun and for me it never got boring. Even better? After you’ve finished the game, you have a chance to jump back in pick up where you left off and go find a couple of secret areas that lead to probably the best boss fights in the game. I don’t think Haiku would be terribly replayable – at least not without a big chunk of time between playthroughs so you’ve forgotten all the secrets and it feels fresh again – but a single playthrough is a big enough experience that I was very happy with it as-is.
In short: If you’re a metroidvania fan, get it. As a side note, if you have kids and were hoping to introduce them to the genre, Haiku’s lighter-hearted themes and slightly easier difficulty (compared to Blasphemous, for example), make this the perfect choice. Not that this is a kid’s game, mind you – Haiku’s perfect for metroidvania fans of all ages.