Rob Lake reviews Horace on Nintendo Switch…
Horace is a “story-driven pixel platform game” that has been developed by Paul Helman with assistance by Sean Scaplehorn. Developed over 6 years, Horace tells the story of a robot as he experiences the world around him and the trials and tribulations that come with being human. Horace is the perfect homage to classic video games and tells an extremely heartfelt story though classic game play and an awful lot of cut-scenes. It’s not often a game makes me burst out with laughter one minute to then feel immense sadness the next, but Horace achieved this in spectacular fashion.
The story of Horace progresses through various 16-bit cutscenes that are played in between the game’s platforming sections. These cutscenes are narrated by Horace himself, who can only be described as Mr. Chips from TV’s Catchphrase crossed with the Terminator. We begin Horace’s tale as he boot up for the first time. The first chapter of the game acts as a tutorial in which Horace’s owner (the Old Man) and his family teach you (through Horace) the platforming fundamentals. Throughout this opening chapter we come to learn that Horace sees the Old Man as a father figure who in turn teaches Horace about humanity, the joys of music and more importantly video games! Without spoiling too much of the story Horace reminded me a lot of Wall-E and Bicentennial Man with your classic conspiracy story added to the mix.
Gameplay is a rather mixed bag of types but a big chunk of it is platforming. The standard platforming tropes are soon quite literally flipped upside down once anti-gravity elements are introduced. This turns the somewhat simple platforming into a puzzle-like maze at times. The ability to shift gravity can be a little cumbersome to begin with but soon becomes second nature without too much fuss or effort.
Platforming sections feel very much inspired by games such as Super Meat Boy and for us older gamers Jet Set Willy. The super twitchy platforming of these games fits in well with each area feeling like a puzzle until you start to slowly work through them. Whilst Horace faces many traps and perils, lives are in infinite amount due to the Lazarus Chip that Horace has installed. Repeatedly dying in the same location also results in the game taking pity on you and providing assistance in the form of a drone. These drones act a a shield which basically allows Horace to take an extra hit. During the game we can acquire the ability to hold five of these shield drones, which does seem a bit overkill but with boss battles and near impossible platforming, an extra life is always handy.
Additional gameplay comes in the form of minigames which serve to break up the non platforming parts. Some of these minigames tie directly into what’s going on in the story such as playing a rudimentary version of Pong with the Old Man, or playing Guitar Hero when Horace joins a band during their practice session. Minigames also form the basis of the jobs that we can perform. Whilst performing these jobs isn’t necessary to progress the story. They do reward us with money that can be uses to buy upgrades for Horace as well as pay for train tickets. Thankfully the jobs are enjoyable and are just taxing enough to not feel like a chore. Whilst competing for a higher score serves no purpose in the grand scheme of things the option to replay these minigames is there if you wish to do so.
As the story progresses we come across an Arcade which opens up even more games to play. I shamelessly lost a few hours in this arcade with the games being full of nostalgia. My favorite happened to be an Outrun clone that featured the cast of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s little Easter Eggs like this that add to the charm of Horace and makes the game that ever more pleasant to play. Its also worth noting that fans of The Golden Girls are also covered as one of the arcade games allows you to help the Girls run a restaurant!
Puzzles, platforming and mini games aside, Horace’s next ace in the hole are its cut scenes. As mentioned earlier these scenes are narrated by Horace himself in his dead-pan monotone robot voice. Whilst generally humorous at times its not afraid to pull at your heart strings when it needs to and I found myself generally feeling Horace’s joy and sadness throughout my playthrough. Whilst the majority of the humor is typically British the game doesn’t rely on your ability to know the reference to build its world. The world itself is a veritable who’s who of British and American TV and everyone from Pat Butcher and Frasier & Niles Crane to the cast of Friends, Seinfeld and even Coronation Street get a nod.
Graphics are all portrayed in a retro style that’s very reminiscent of the 1980’s home computer mixed with the colour depth of the SNES or Mega Drive. With this Paul Helman has created a world that feels unique in that it captures your feelings of nostalgia but adds a current generation gaming feel to it. The soundtrack is a wonderful mix of chip tunes that works well to match with the context of what’s happening on the screen. The more up-beat tempo songs are used to perfectly capture the risks of the often frantic platforming sections, whilst the slower more melodic tracks perfectly contribute towards the games hugely heartfelt moments.
Horace is my surprise game of this year. If your a child of the 80’s and 90’s then Horace has a lot of content that you will fondly recognise. Whilst I’m in this demographic my enjoyment of Horace went much further. From the get go I felt invested in Horace in both as a character and the game itself. With a cast of likeable characters and a clever story, Horace at its heart is a tale of a robot who’s purpose in life is to clean up rubbish, but ends up being so much more. If your a fan of platforming or even retro games Horace is definitely a game you should play and is a real contender for Switch Game of the Year.
+ The character of Horace
+ Sense of nostalgia
+ Wealth of gameplay variation
– Some platforming sections are a little unfair
– Overall replayability
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch (also available for Windows PC)
A review copy was provided by the publisher.