A sign of a great game is when, no matter how many days I’ve spent with it, I justify yet another morning playing before I start to write. Haiku, the Robot is one such game, an absolutely captivating Metroid-me-do, that I want to be playing right now, instead of finally stopping to tell you to do the same.
Haiku is a little robot, as the title may have implied, who finds himself in a post-apocalyptic 2D world, where his fellow robots have been corrupted by a virus that has turned them all mean and attacky. He then goes on an exploratory adventure, gathering new abilities, bopping baddies, and chatting with the uncorrupted locals in an effort to save the world. And he does it all brilliantly.
It is, in most senses, a very traditional delivery of the form, from its sparingly placed healing save rooms to its ever-expanding available territory as new skills are gained. Play is a familiar combination of simple combat and puzzle-forward platforming, with occasional boss fights. But it’s not only that it delivers all these core elements so deftly that makes this such a satisfying experience, but the subtle tweaks that smooth out the whole ride.
Boss fights are not difficulty walls at all. Some are tricky, certainly, but even someone as boss-inept as I is able to clear them after two or three tries. Some I passed first time. This means that those who specifically crave the Souls-like challenge of Hollow Knight will not be rewarded here, but then, you know, the rest of gaming has them covered just now. Just this is enough to win my heart, but it has other quality-of-life improvements over even Metroid that make me even happier.
(This sounds so minor, but those save rooms: when you step into the save point, it takes a second. I cannot bear it when Metroid games make me sit there for 15 seconds, watching the animations play out even now the technology finished the save in the opening split-second, and it drives me even crazier when copycat games mimic this tedium for no reason. Not Haiku, though! Bam, done, you’re off.)
More significantly, I especially love Haiku’s approach to exploration. Very early on, the game has a character prompt you that this is something to relax about. To not feel like you need to persist in a certain direction first, or prioritise what might feel like the main progression path. You pick a direction, and you just look around. The game, unlike so many Metroid-likes, doesn’t feel like a world composed of dead ends. You aren’t constantly bumping up against an unopenable door, or a platform you can’t quite reach – those are there, certainly, but it always feels like there’s another option for forward progress.
I can’t overstate how impressive that last factor is, and how much more compelling it makes the game. This is then boosted by other lovely details, like the chips you can gather or buy for your robot, that can be swapped in and out of a limited number of slots (more slots can be gained) to customise how you want to play. You can give yourself more health, along with a saw blade for when you’re spinning (basically morph ball mode), and increase the length of your weapon, a sword. Or, you might pick a chip that makes your sword lighter and so swing faster, boost your rolling speed, and lower the number of spare parts needed to repair yourself. Or a dozen other combinations.
Those spare parts are the game’s currency, dropped by killed enemies and found in hidden areas, that can either be spent in the store, or used on the fly to heal your current health. The latter takes a bit of time, meaning you can’t spam it while being attacked, but it too allows you to focus on progress.
Add to this the excellent music, the adorable pixel animation, the deeply satisfying movement, and a non-invasive yet worthwhile story, and it’s just fantastic. And somehow, but for the music and sounds, the work of just one guy — Mister Morris Games — which is crazy.
This really is one of the best Metroid-likes I’ve played, and its lower-than-usual difficulty is something I have found incredibly welcome. I’ve been playing the PC version via Steam, and I feel certain I’ll be playing it all over again when it comes out on Switch. There’s a lot here, and it entirely justifies its $US20 ($28) tag. I’m already lamenting not having spent ages telling you about the incredible array of enemy designs, the gorgeous background art in its many biomes, its excellent map…But I want to go back to finish it right now!