A way with words.
Haimrik does a lot right – and not a lot wrong. While short, it’s focused, and it’s perhaps one of the best paced games I’ve played. Developed by Colombian developer Below The Game, Haimrik takes the unlikely, clumsy and milquetoast hero – the titular scribe, Haimrik – and puts him into the middle of a medieval uprising. But how does a shy, weak and scrawny fellow become the leader of a revolution? Through a magic book and a drop of his own blood, of course.
Haimrik’s hook is its use of words. Words are power, and Haimrik learns this full well following a nightmare where he is thrown into the world of a mysterious tome. Here, he learns the dark art of bending words to his will in order to survive, which becomes the main theme throughout. This is displayed by some beautiful artwork, with storybook sentences on screen at all times. Haimrik stands over certain words – usually nouns such as sword, torch, crossbow and arrows – holds triangle and voila, the word is manifested. This lets Haimrik fight guards, solve puzzles and, generally, wield much more power than he has any right to wield.
Haimrik is very much a game that has an incredibly unique mechanic and knows exactly how to use it. Puzzles are self-contained on one screen, usually with three floors, and require you to read on and figure out which words will help you reach the exit. You can only hold one item at a time, so summoning a torch will replace your sword, and this means you’ll have to think ahead, though you can combine some specific items. Sometimes, you’ll only learn through trial and error, other times you’ll have to backtrack to the top of the level to get the right item – admittedly tedious.
But most of the time, you find a good rhythm; reading what’s on screen and solving puzzles as you go does make you feel like you’re constantly making forward progress. It’s a very clever way of keeping the pace up, and because of this I found it hard to put the controller down. In spots, it actually felt like reading a real page-turner.
I’ll be honest, the writing itself in these puzzle sections isn’t perfect. If you read it as a story from start to finish it would be very haphazard and childish, and there are some grammatical errors which will make you double take, but the cutscenes and overarching story are written satisfyingly well. So well, in fact, it makes me wonder if the structure of the puzzles was too much of an obstacle to the in-level writing. Or maybe it just needed better copy editing.
In any case, the story is complemented by a beautiful style. Even during cutscenes you still control Haimrik as he squeamishly runs from left to right through a tapestry of hand-drawn art which highlights the important events happening around him. These often involve lots of blood. And when you’re not cutting corners by taking advantage of the mystical world of words, you’re learning about Haimrik’s dullard life in his village, where he’s regarded in contempt by some and a trustworthy pal by others.
Of course, this life quickly changes, and that kicks off the story which deftly blends black comedy, bloody revolution and political backstabbery, leading to a brilliant, creative final act. Unfortunately, the very end feels rushed; it could have done with another 10-20 minutes, but it’s easy to forgive. When you come out of a game thinking, ‘if only there was more if it’, that’s really not so bad.
One of the standout parts of Haimrik is the boss fights. They ramp up the pace so you’re having to read and react in a short space of time. Again, some fights are trial and error, but dying doesn’t punish you and it’s not too hard to figure out what to do. It is written right in front of you, after all. You could argue that this leaves the player with little to do other than ‘press the button on the right words’, but that’s reductive, and a late-game section where you switch between characters freshens up the puzzle solving right when it’s needed. Pacing, like I said, is handled very well throughout.
The only real negative I have about Haimrik is lack of replayability. I’d love an excuse to jump back into his little tale, but by the time the book is closed, there’s nothing else to learn. Sure, you could get all the trophies or achievements, but having only one save file means playing through again from the start. A chapter select sure would be nice.
Haimrik is a charming little game which is worth a look. A strong, fun story is bound together with an innovative mechanic I’d like to see more of in the future, and the art drips with style – despite most of the levels being palette swaps, instead of brand new level structures. I think the £15.99 price tag is a tad too high for this four-hour game (I’d knock a fiver off it, personally) but for someone looking for a clever take on the 2D puzzle genre, it’s definitely recommended.