We still don't know when Hollow Knight's long-awaited sequel Hollow Knight: Silksong is coming out, but the demo for upcoming Metroid-like Haiku The Robot has been scratching that Hollow Knight itch for me like nobody's business this week. Available now as part of the Steam Next Fest, this challenging, side-scrolling action-adventure game sees your little bot pal Haiku explore a vast, apocalyptic scrap heap that's been corrupted by possessed machinery and other nasty robots - all without a single squishy bug in sight. Lovely stuff.
I'm not gonna lie. I do not like bugs and insects very much, and there's a part of me that always recoiled slightly whenever I encountered a new skittering boss in Hollow Knight. But who could say no to the cute, almost Rayman-like limbs of Haiku and his big round face? This is much more my vibe, as are the hopping nuts and bolts, bouncing tires with their grim little faces and enraged little robo vacuums you'll be whacking with Haiku's sword in the demo's opening area.
As with any classic Metroid-like, Haiku's ability set starts off pretty basic. Apart from his sword, the only other thing Haiku can do is perform a nifty little dash that lets him slip past enemies. He's a capable little thing, though, and his jumps, swings and dashes feel responsive under the thumbs. Eventually, though, you'll acquire other power-ups and upgrades. Within the first 20 minutes, for example, I was rewarded with the Magnet ability after defeating a rather angry looking crusher bot, which lets you stick to sheer surfaces and hop up them like a little wall-jump. I also saw glimpses of other areas within its large, interconnected scrap heap that would require other upgrades like a powerful lamp to see in the dark and heat-protective armour (or maybe some cooling liquid, to keep with the mechanical theme) to stop Haiku's little pressure gauge in the top left corner of the screen from burning up.
The pressure gauge doubles up as a kind of stamina bar, with the little dial pulsing upwards whenever you dash. Haiku also has four little health chambers, which you can restore at will by holding down the right shoulder button by spending some of the scrap metal you collect from enemies. It's a similar idea to Hollow Knight's Focus ability, where you can spend Souls absorbed from your foes to restore the knight's health bar. When Haiku fixes himself up, he performs this delightful self-repair animation, flipping open his tummy and tightening up his bolts with a little wrench, while his spent scrap metal bounces out onto the floor.
In another Hollow Knight-esque twist, you'll lose your life-restoring scrap metal (which also doubles up as cash to buy upgrades from the roaming merchants you'll ocassionally bump into) if you run out of health. However, once you've bought a little bird whistle from Sonnet the shopkeeper (who does look suspiciously bug-like...), you can store your spare parts in a vault for safe-keeping whenever you find special bird perches scattered across the map. Despite my aversion to bugs, I always admired this kind of risk and reward in Hollow Knight, and I'm glad to see other games having a go at it as well.
Haiku The Robot also just looks absolutely lovely. While the first area could almost be dubbed Fifty Shades Of Rust, other screenshots on Steam hint at greener, leafier areas, as well as gorgeous blue water levels. I'm a sucker for this kind of art direction, and I'm excited to see more of it. Alas, Haiku's final release date is still only 'Coming Soon' on Steam, but why not give the demo a try for yourself while you wait?
We've also got loads of other Steam Next Fest recommendations, in case you want to cram in even more lovely indies before the fest ends on Thursday October 7th.