The Pen is mightier than the sword. A statement I can relate too as the youngest sibling growing up, the pen was all I had to use against an older and more developed brother. Maturing, I still lacked the athletic physique, solely relying upon my wit, charisma and the wilful acceptance of my antagonist ‘knocking me out’ to which I concurred vocally; leaving my antagonist confused with his masculinity dispersed as I vocalise my own feeble self-awareness. At times we are too quick to act with irrational violence when we should take an extra second to cogitate.
If you were to glance at Haimrik -developed by Colombian studio Below the Game- you would just brush this off as another platformer set in a medieval time period with a unique art style. While the game is primarily two-dimensional featuring platforming sections, it has more in common with an adventure game, with gameplay being more puzzle orientated rather than platforming. Originally released on the PC, now Haimrik comes pouring on to the console market; but how does this PC gem hold up on console? Well that’s what I’m here to tell you so… you know… carry on reading and you’ll find out, won’t you?
Haimrik starts off with a cutscene informing the player of the backstory, about how the four kingdoms of the games location, Estria, fought in a perpetual war until a dark evil arrived from the ocean. When the lands became weakened, hopelessness spread across the kingdom until King Udolf attained an ancient power discovered within the nearby mountains. With his new-found power, Udolf conquered the evil, uniting the kingdoms in the process under his own banner. With the kingdoms under his banner, Udolf granted the most skilled men and women access to the boundless power and were then given the title ‘The World Warriors’. While many a kingdom turned affluent, so would many become impoverished.
Playing as the character Haimrik, he awakens from a dream which he uses his blood to ink a book. Upon awakening Haimrik is informed that today is Unification day with Udolf parading through your small quiet village; you quickly learn that this is a rarity. Many of the townsfolk feel disenfranchised with how their village has been treated by Udolfs government and are rallying for a rebellion, but Haimrik cares not for such things as he is a pleasant yet naïve novelist, whom no one reads his work. When Haimrik visit the character of Jelena, the taverns owner that the male villagers seem to fancy, even if she’s roughed them up and Haimriks land lady, she is displeased with late rent payment and tells you to get one of your books from the library, so she can at least read one of his books as payment. It’s in the library Haimrik comes across a book he’s never seen before but reminds him of the book that featured in his dreams. It’s at this moment the tavern is invaded by soldiers, ogres and a warlock who freezes everyone except Haimrik. Learning from his dream the night before, Haimrik cuts his hand and pours the blood onto the pages transporting him inside the book granting him powers from the written words.
The story from this point sees Haimrik battle and solve puzzles by entering his special book using the power of words as the narrative takes many twists and turns, murders and betrayals…
I was pleasantly surprised of how strong the narrative was in this game and have a light touch of political message. Being from a small village myself, one that has been drained and left to slowly rot from austerity, I could only relate to the villagers in the game who talk of an oppressive government treating and taxing them unfairly.
Haimriks mother also strengthens the message of the game telling you to be nice to everybody and to not underestimate the power of words which the latter, the gameplay takes literally. Though the slight political overtone was great, the story, characters and dialogue delights with its charm and wit, holding my fascination until the closing credits. There is enough substance that fits the games art style.
And a peerless art style is displayed in Haimrik. The games canvass looks like a piece of wood with all the illustrations have been done by a professional wood burning artist. Chiefly the game consists of various shades of brown that compliment the medieval grit, but not enough to detract from its more cartoony feel; like how eighty percent of the character sprites is of their head. The playful quality of the games art even stems through the gory elements as death animations often splats with copious amounts of blood and flesh that’s so over the top, it’s comedic. It has a childlike imagination that fits well with the narrative.
The village in Haimrik acts as somewhat of the games hub that usually consist of you go to A, to B and then to C to go back to A again, serving as the main parts of exposition before entering the book. Haimrik must enter his book to collect items, discover back story or battle enemies. Upon entering the book, the levels floor will feature words that will tell that part of the story, however it’s here you will use certain words within the story to solve puzzles and collect items; such as using the word knife to equip a knife to attack enemies or using the word blizzard to freeze enemies and some puzzles need you to use several words to mix items like you would in an adventure game. The game develops this idea well enough, for example one section has you controlling two characters simultaneously on two different plains, where both sets of text helping one and the other. Boss battles, of which there are several, have their unique solutions but some feel more like a straight forward boss battle than a puzzle to be solved through words, especially in the first half of the game. Occasionally the game allows you to fire at enemies in the background, in an over the shoulder view feeling akin to a 3rd person shooter which is a nice addition to gameplay.
As the concept may sound daunting, the game is relatively easy with you finding the solutions to the harder puzzles within a minute or two. An enjoyable, polished, unique and surprisingly diverse experience Haimrik is, it never feels like it reaches its full potential where its gameplay mechanic and the puzzles design hit that eureka moment a game with such an original design should. This is due in part by only allowing you certain words to be activated and the simple nature of the puzzles.
Unfortunately, the same can be said with the narrative. How you dispatch the last boss felt like it went against the fundamental message and plot of the game, leaving me unsatisfied with its conclusion.
I do worry about the accessibility, anyone with severe dyslexia may struggle with the reading element of the game, especially in a few moments you are constantly moving. Also, anyone with low vision may struggle to read the words too due to font size. As great as the concept is, I do feel it may be unplayable with people who suffer with these conditions.
Haimrik is a charming game full of spirit and glee that will keep you entertained throughout its three to four-hour playtime, with the game never over staying it’s welcome. The art style, and art direction are brimming with character and originality that suits the game world as well as the story. As the game is enjoyable, wholly original and is surprisingly diverse, it just never reaches that point of brilliance. While the story was funny and unexpectedly sincere, it’s a shame the end suffers with one little moment that kills the rest of the story up until that point. The pen is mightier than the sword, if that pen can summon a beast.
REVIEW CODE: A FREE Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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