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Thread: Horace Review

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    Horace Review


    Every year, countless retro indie platformers flood the digital marketplace, and so it's no surprise Horace flew under the radar when it launched on Steam last summer. But that's unfortunate, as Horace is truly something special, and now that it's made its way to the Nintendo Switch, hopefully it gets the attention that it deserves.

    Horace is able to differentiate itself from the pack mainly thanks to its engaging, heartfelt story and fantastic cast of characters, things that are usually hard to come by in the platforming genre. The game is about the titular Horace, a robot built by a friendly "Old Man," and his interactions with the humans in his life. While things start out low-key, the ensuing adventure is epic in scale, with Horace visiting all kinds of unexpected locations, meeting new characters, and experiencing everything from friendship to love to heartbreaking tragedy.

    Horace narrates the entire story, and so players get to experience everything from his naive perspective. This is where the game derives much of its charm and humor, with the latter going a long way in making the characters more relatable as well as keeping the cut-scenes consistently entertaining. There's plenty of action, too, and no shortage of shocking, jaw-dropping moments that will catch players off-guard as these kinds of story developments are simply not common in a 2D platformer like this.


    Horace's story is equal parts hilarious and depressing, and it will stick with players long after the credits roll. It's also stuffed with nods to various other video games and a ton of pop culture references that not only work as sight gags, but also directly impact the gameplay. Within the span of a minute, players will find themselves exploring a town called "Sitcombe" populated by characters from Seinfeld and Friends, change Horace's size to complete platforming challenges ala Alice in Wonderland, speed through a world that's a spitting image of Sonic the Hedgehog's Green Hill Zone, and then top it all off with a Flappy Bird-inspired obstacle course.

    The only downside to Horace's story is that sometimes the cut-scene to gameplay ratio leans too far in the former's direction. Some chapters constantly yank control away from the player to show another cut-scene and they can be rather lengthy, to the point where the screen will dim because a button hasn't been pressed for so long. The frequency and length of the cut-scenes in Horace may sometimes make players feel like they're playing Metal Gear Solid, but like MGS, at least the cut-scenes are never boring.

    Even so, the way Horace is paced, especially within the first few hours, may be a turn off to some players. Pacing in general is something Horace struggles with, as it has frequent backtracking, padding, and some other things that slow the game's momentum to a halt. This includes stealth sections where players have to hide in lockers, as well as having to stand still to pick up the collectible junk that's strewn about the levels.


    The collection aspect is improved later in the game, as Horace eventually gives players the ability to purchase upgrades that make collecting junk instant, and will even pull the junk in toward Horace. Other upgrades are available as well, including one that lets players use binoculars to look ahead in the level, along with standard ones like giving Horace extra hit points. Players earn money for upgrades in the game by selling junk and completing rhythm mini-games, which serve as a nice distraction from the standard platforming gameplay.

    Players can waste hours in Horace exploring the towns, completing mini-games for money, and hunting down secrets. Most of the towns also have arcades players can visit, which are filled with spoofs of classic arcade games, with everything from Pac-Man to Space Invaders represented. There's even an arcade cabinet that replicates the gameplay of the Guitar Hero games, and while these mini-games could have been shallow distractions, there's surprising depth to them. For example, the Guitar Hero mini-game ranks players based on their performance and has multiple songs to unlock.

    Horace players can spend a lot of time in town playing mini-games and exploring, but the meat of the experience is the 2D platforming, which is a lot of fun but also incredibly challenging. Horace doesn't pull any punches, and it's easy to see how some players will become frustrated with the game. Others will find the stiff difficulty thrilling, and the game's generous checkpoint system should keep most players from pulling their hair out.


    Horace is a fairly typical 2D platformer in many aspects, but it gradually introduces new gimmicks to keep things fresh. One of the earliest upgrades is a pair of special gravity boots that let Horace stick to walls, which allow for some truly mind-bending platforming sections. In some ways, it's like the developers took the Super Mario Galaxy gameplay and converted it to 2D form. It can be disorienting at first, but it also lends itself well to experimentation, giving players more freedom to get from point A to point B than they usually do in this kind of game.

    Other upgrades Horace unlocks include the ability to pick up and throw heavy objects, as well as swim underwater. Many gamers dread underwater levels in most 2D platformers, but Horace doesn't overdo them and makes them extra-thrilling with its drowning mechanic. Instead of using a simple meter to indicate when Horace will need to come up for air, it uses music that sounds not like the Jaws theme, and speeds it up when Horace is close to death. It's a simple thing, but it really gets the blood pumping and makes these swimming sections extra exciting.

    Film fans will recognize the Halloween theme in Horace as well, with much of the rest of the soundtrack comprised of classical music. While classical music may sound like it would be out of place for a 2D platformer, it fits the game's aesthetic perfectly, and goes well with Horace himself, who dresses like a stereotypical English gentleman, complete with suit, tie, and bowler hat.


    Horace's clothing is used in clever ways to help players figure out some of the platforming sections. With all the gravity-shifting going on, players may not always know which way is up, but Horace's tie will help them get oriented. When Horace is upside down, the tie hangs down in his face, and when he's right-side up, Horace will tuck his tie back into his suit. These little animation details not only serve a gameplay purpose, but also give the game even more personality, and it's incredible what the developers were able to achieve with the game's 16-bit-style graphics. The expressive 16-bit faces in Horace are just as effective at conveying emotion as games that use Hollywood actors and expensive performance capture set-ups.

    Horace's story by itself makes it an easy recommendation, but it doesn't hurt that the game is also a fun, challenging 2D platformer with plenty of gameplay variety to ensure that players are almost always doing something new. The backtracking and pacing issues are something to keep in mind, but they are easily overlooked when the rest of the game is this good. Simply put, Horace is an absolute must-play for platforming fans.

    Horace is out now on PC and Switch.

  2. #2
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