I knew that Haque (presumably pronounced the same as Hack) was a game I had to dig deeper into when, after slaying a manticore for the first time (described in-game as 'Big angry kitties with venomous scorpion tails' and also 'They are just the best'), the tutorial narrator popped up to grumble about what the fell beasts had done to his vegetable garden.
Released about a week ago, Haque has flown under the radar. Low-fi retro games are ten a penny, and roguelike dungeon-crawls even moreso, but after trying a bit of it myself, I reckon it might well warrant a closer look.
At its heart, Haque seems to be a straightforward and accessible roguelike, wrapped up in a messy bundle of interesting inspirations. The writing is whimsical, reminiscent of Adventure Time. The look of the game is early DOS, with (optional) CRT monitor simulation, right down to a Filth slider in the graphics options letting you adjust how much finger-smudged dust you want on your imaginary monitor-within-a-monitor.
Most interestingly seems to be an occasionally glitchy aesthetic that seems to run more than skin deep. While I don't expect the game to go full Pony Island on me, I definitely felt an escalating sense of glitch-fueled dread, with the scatterbrained Old Man of the tutorial occasionally returning in menacing form to deliver dire warnings as sprites warp and flicker.
If that was all there was to the game, it wouldn't be worth mentioning, though. At its core, Haque is charming. It seems to be a legitimately good little roguelike, with a solidly designed UI, animation used sparingly but to great effect and with enemies, items and classes that are almost all weird but cute. The audio hits all the right kinds of retro crunches, beeps and bloops but what really steals the show is the free-flowing guitar-noodling of the soundtrack - sometimes acoustic, sometimes electric, frequently great to listen to.
Haque's bundle of ideas includes a particularly clever one borrowed from Rogue Legacy, too; Every time you start a game of Haque, you pick from one of three completely random characters, meaning that sometimes you'll just have to play as a Pumpkin-man and his loyal pet Puplord, who is a cat. Given how silly all the choices tend to be, it seems hard to pick sometimes, and that's a good problem to have in a roguelike.
I'm only a little ways into the game, having just slain the first boss. I'm definitely going to be spending some more time on this later in the week - even if the rabbit hole doesn't go quite as deep as I'm hoping on the weird glitchy front, the solid mechanics and adorable writing will sustain me through at least a few more runs.