Haven | Review | Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: The Game Bakers
  • Publisher: The Game Bakers
  • Release date: 04/02/2021
  • Price: £22.49/$24.99
  • Review code provided by The Game Bakers

Introducing: Haven – Nintendo Switch Review

Lockdown and Haven have a lot of parallels. In the game, you control a young couple who are trapped in a small spaceship that has become their home. They leave occasionally for food and supplies, travelling in an empty, eerie, and unfamiliar planet known as Source. I’m not sure if that’s why the game failed to grip me initially, but in these dark times, we need a bit of escapism rather than a brutal reflection of what life has become.

Unlike reality, instead of longing for contact, our intrepid duo spend their time trying their hardest to avoid the all-seeing eye of the Apiary, the colony they have fled. 

The game ends up playing out as an interesting fusion of a relationship management sim, survival game and Journey-esque adventure. The big question is, can Haven offer a convincing blend of these three genres, or is it a case of “jack of all trades, master of none”?

Flow State

Do you ever have those dreams where you can fly, not like a bird, but you can glide along for a while provided that you focus on the dream in a semi-lucid way. Haven’s central gameplay mechanic focuses on a similar form of flight, whereby you can fly along blue trails which twist and turn through valleys, up mountains and across the sky. This flight mechanic is your main method of traversal as you explore a new planet that has been destroyed and literally blown to pieces. The game world is more like a series of small floating islands, not unlike an apocalyptic Mario Galaxy.

You control Yu and Kay as they attempt to survive on this desolate planet and repair their ship, which serves as their living quarters. As you explore the planet, collecting resources to survive and repair your ship, you begin to realise that the planet isn’t quite as empty as it initially seemed, with roaming wildlife providing the game’s combat focus.

The basic gameplay loop sees you heading out on an expedition each day, travelling through the use of the blue threads known as flow, and collecting resources to cook meals to survive, parts that can be used to repair the ship, and medicinal plants which can be used to craft health-restoring items.

Supplies are generally limited so the game feels a little like a survival sim, whereby you often need to return to your ship to sleep, eat, and recover from wounds. Before heading out again you need to craft food and health items to help you both explore further afield and find better items to help you improve your abilities.

The game seems overly simplistic to start with, as you generally find yourself travelling the flow rails looking for resources to harvest. This is compounded by the fact the game is covered in a purple blight, which seems to be all the rage with Nintendo’s first-party games recently too. Unfortunately, this particular purple blight, known as rust, is there to be cleaned up and harvested for use on your ship.

Doing so is a fairly monotonous and repetitive task, making every island a bit of a chore initially as you start doing your rounds of busywork. Clearing up all the rust can unlock the option to fast travel and can help you build upgrades, so it’s not an optional task, unfortunately.

Yu-Kay Hun?

Upon returning to your ship the game takes a different focus, looking at the relationship between Yu and Kay. Lengthy dialogue sequences play out, with optional dialogue at different points. Choosing the correct option can strengthen your relationship, which is essentially the game’s equivalent of levelling up. In turn, this boosts your health and attack strength and adds new moves for use in combat and exploration.

The dialogue in these sections is actually quite well done and manages to avoid feeling too cheesy or cliched. The game manages to portray an adult relationship, including all the ups and downs whilst avoiding seeming too immature or crude. These sections convey a sense of humour as well as a warmth that is quite lacking in other games of a similar nature.

Yu and Kay’s relationship also forms the backbone of the combat system, which offers a unique take on turn-based combat, but also manages to come off as overly simplistic. You control each character individually using the sticks, with each direction on the stick corresponding to specific command. Rather than simply defeating enemies, you must knock them out then clear them of the corruption from the rust that infects each planet. Early on, the game teaches you the benefits of queueing attacks or other commands on one character then using the other to set up an attack. This can allow for some cool moments where one stuns an enemy before the other utilises a heavy attack that would otherwise miss.

The combat works well in some of the bigger battles where strategy is required, but the smaller battles are more a war of attrition and offer little satisfaction. I found the combat was something I generally tried to avoid, as more often than not the battles were dull, but the game does offer an interesting take on turn-based battles and manages to do it without the use of an obstructive HUD.

Ohh La La!

Visually and aurally, Haven reeks of coolness. The game has a brilliant soundtrack that stretches from chilled ambient tracks to catchy electro-pop and manages to feel really different from the never-ending stream of chiptune music that indies use these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love the current batch of games that pay homage to the 80s and 90s classics, but I found myself listening to the game’s soundtrack on Spotify a good bit when I wasn’t playing the game, which is a rare occurrence these days.

As well as sounding great, the game is gorgeous to look at, with some lovely lighting and nice effects as you glide through neverending fields of rippling grass. The game utilises a day and night cycle that offers up some stunning vistas as you head into the twilight. My only complaint is that almost every area looks the same, which becomes wearing after a while.

Houston, We have a problem!

The game looks great and runs really smoothly in docked or handheld, but the draw distance for the grass in the game is really short, particularly in handheld, which detracts from the experience, especially when most areas are barren.

The game doesn’t seem to use any form of anti-aliasing, with edges coming off really jaggy. I noticed this particularly as I picked up an mClassic at the same time I started playing the game. The difference in the visual boost that mClassic gave the game was really pronounced, and helped highlight the lack of anti-aliasing. Haven is available on the big boy consoles, and so may be worth picking up there for a better visual experience, but overall the art style manages to impress and the game runs really smoothly in the process.

Loading times are a big issue, hitting up to 40 seconds on most occasions when transitioning between areas. Given the small size of most planetoids, this can make traversal a lot more tedious than it would otherwise be.

One huge flaw that I need to highlight is that I suffered full crashes on a number of occasions. Often it was just after a big battle, where the game had thankfully auto saved my progress, but on a number of occasions this was during a long period of traversal across the map, resulting in a lot of lost progress.

In my experience of reviewing and playing a huge number of Switch games, I found this to be the worst offender for crashes, which is really disappointing.

Final Thoughts

Haven is a real audio-visual trip, but it falls down a little on the gameplay mechanics. It tried to provide a unique spin on turn-based combat but fails to hit the mark. The exploration is interesting, and can at times feel like an even more avant-garde version of Jet Set Radio, with flow rails feeling like grinding in that game. The clearing mechanics to rid planets of rust can make the game feel more like work, but the relationship management side of the game is actually a lot more interesting than I had anticipated. The writing is great and offers a natural-feeling view into a relationship, which is something a lot of devs would struggle to pull off. For every high point, Haven has a bit of a bump in the road, which sours the overall experience.

Pros

  • Beautiful to look at
  • Amazing soundtrack
  • Succeeds in building interesting character relationships

Cons

  • Terrible problems with crashes
  • Rust clearing mechanics are a chore
  • Environments lack variety

Verdict
Haven flatters to deceive. It offers beautiful visuals and an amazing soundtrack, but the gameplay doesn’t hit those highs. The performance issues also drag the game down, leaving a bit of a sour taste overall.

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