Plenty of titles have tried to give dialogue a functional place in video games. Typing of the Dead prompted survivors to shuffle their way through a horde of literary challenges, while games like Scribblenauts shape the world around your words. Now Haimrik, developed by Below the Game and published by 1C, is the latest title to try to bring a little wordplay to your video games.
Like so many tales of might and magic, Haimrik is a traditional zero to hero tale. Beginning in a squalid town, this mundane little corner of the world is an appropriate reflection of the game’s titular hero. Haimrik is a spectacularly unremarkable scribe who spends his days trying to scratch out a living in the basement of the local bar. A fortuitous series of events gift Haimrik a magical book with a difference. Unlike traditional spell books, this particular tome does not simply bestow magic upon its owner. Instead, it demands blood and transports players into a world where the pen really is mightier than the sword. The powers of this book provide Haimrik with the ability to take the written words and manifest physical objects from them. It is not going to help Haimrik make a best seller, but when a rabble of the local court’s soldiers ransack the town and start picking off villagers, Haimrik’s story begins to take shape. After spilling his own blood in battle, Haimrik is drawn into a quest full of wizards, dragons, kings, and one very hungry lioness.
Haimirk’s adventure takes place across two very distinct worlds. Outside the influence of his magical book, Haimrik is, for the most part, a narrative experience. Players can potter around town, run through dank underground passages, and chat with a host of characters. This is, like Haimrik, is a fairly pedestrian part of Haimrik’s adventure. While a little platforming is evident, this extremely linear stage generally serves as a stage to introduce Haimrik’s magic book and the worlds that lie beyond a paper cut. Each foray into Haimrik’s book, however, tends to be far more interactive. These events follow a common template and, like language, there are rules to this system. Almost every experience in Haimrik’s magic book contains an array of walkways, split across several levels. The upcoming narrative can be found emblazoned across the path that lies ahead, and as he dashes across the screen Haimrik can interact with specific nouns. Activating these words conjurors items that Haimrik can use to overcome obstacles in his way, craft potions, or fell enemies. It is vaguely reminiscent of Scribblenauts systems if a little more prescriptive, and makes a nice change from run and gun mechanics or the point and click procession that many indies use to slow down player progression. Cannonballs, swords, rain, wind, fire, and sailing boats all appear at the touch of a button and provide an excellent opportunity to engage in some simple puzzle solving exercises.
It’s not all problem-solving in the realm of the word warriors. The stories in our story are where Haimrik has an opportunity to face dragons. Combat gameplay is hardly sensational. Players can utilize whatever weapon they have to hand with a single action button and simply need to avoid being hit by a pretty predictable AI. This might sound a little mundane but I found creating my own dynamite or pulling a cannonball from the page was a nice twist to something that could have simply become fire and forget. The result is a combat system that is easy to pick up and adequately weaves the game’s unique selling point into each encounter.
This does not mean that Haimrik’s trip to glory is all plain sailing, however. There are plenty of ways to crush, maim, poison, incinerate, and eviscerate poor Haimrik as he tries to make his way through a dicey set of situations. When Haimrik ends up as nothing more than a bloody stain on the page, you will find yourself reanimated and deposited right back at the start of the latest bloody mess. Possession of this magical tome means Haimrik cannot be killed. This allows Below the Game to subject the hero of this story to some unusually offhand violence.
Thankfully, this Looney Tunes level of abuse is all wrapped up in a cartoon facade that allows Belo the Game to cut down Haimrik purely for laughs. The appropriate sketchbook art style takes an almost monochrome world and only pencils in color when absolutely necessary, and manages to make the unforgiving violence part of its charm. The best example of this is the recurring appearance of Masamba. A lioness that just seems to appear in Haimrik’s local bar for no discernable reason, Masamba takes a liking to Haimrik when she discovers, far before any of the other NPCs, that Haimrik is both invincible and delicious. You are unlikely to find Tails casually chewing on his comrades, and what follows is a platforming, puzzle solving calamity with intermittent eviscerations and the odd lioness mauling.
Outside of a very occasional boss battle, this description is indicative of the pattern of gameplay that prevails in Haimrik. Short story instances are interrupted for a bit of wordy action and the whole game moves on. Wordplay is rarely challenging and what little combat that exists has no obvious threat of failure. This leaves Haimrik to lean heavily on its slightly dark sense of humor to keep players amused while they play through the game.
Ultimately Haimrik is a simple soul, He doesn’t have a huge amount to say that would engage viewers but an interesting new tome and some very bizarre events make for an entertaining ride. The visceral humor and some interesting, if rather restrictive, mechanics keep the narrative from becoming altogether too linear. A story like this should definitely be red, blood red, to be believed. Haimrik is out now on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.