Developer: Paul Helman, Sean Scaplehorn
Publisher: 505 Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 21/10/2020
A code was provided for review purposes.
Not Just A Platformer
On the surface, Horace may seem like just another 2D platformer on the Nintendo eShop. It’s hard to summarise the entire story, so the description of a robot trying to reunite with his family while picking up rubbish left over from the Robot War doesn’t particularly stand out. I’ve played many whacky indie games in my time at Rapid Reviews, with weird and wonderful stories, and initially Horace doesn’t sound too different.
But with the praise from my fellow writers and buzz words flying around such as ‘masterpiece’, I was more than happy to give it a go. I soon learned that this truly was unlike anything I’d ever played, and took the platforming genre to an entirely new level.
Trying to explain the plot of Horace would take all day, and is better experienced for yourself. To sum it up though, you take on the role of a charming robot, who is also the narrator throughout the whole game. Torn from his dysfunctional and mismatch family of humans, he embarks on a journey around the world, learning more about the Robot War as he goes. Though he takes advantage of his robot abilities and equipment, his initial goal of cleaning up a million pieces of rubbish is always close to his heart.
I was surprised to experience such an emotional rollercoaster of a story, as it does appear fairly lighthearted. A Wall-E-esque robot cleaning the world of litter sounds pretty cute (don’t get me wrong, Horace is adorable and I would die for him)! But, some parts are extremely dark and full of heartache. There are plenty of twists and turns, and highs and lows, to keep you engrossed in the story.
Having Horace as the narrator and protagonist is the perfect choice, though his robotic voice does take some getting used to at first. He has such a human story that makes him so likeable, coming to grips with his emotions and learning about life. However, it’s not all deep; viewing the world from a robot perspective only enhances the brilliant humour that is prevalent throughout!
What’s All This Then?
I’m not ashamed to say that Horace had me laughing out loud at many points in the game! The fact that sarcasm and certain jokes fly right over our robot friend’s head makes it even funnier. He says things with such sincerity and obliviousness that you can’t help but chuckle! It also makes you love him even more. The most hilarious part for me was him repeating a (bleeped out) swear word that one of the other characters had said, with no concept of how bad the word was.
Horace is also littered with pop culture references and puns, so keep your eyes peeled for the most obscure ones too. In particular, there’s a lot of British humour; though the game can still be enjoyed regardless of nationality, you do feel a sort of connection as a fellow Brit and understand more of the Easter eggs (such as Anton Deck the show host, who prefers to be called Mr Deck).
The humour is just what is needed to balance out the darker moments, while also making those moments more impactful. You would literally be laughing one moment, then your smile would fade the next. I really wasn’t expecting it!
There are a lot of your typical platforming features in Horace; jumping over fire, avoiding enemies and leaping across crumbling platforms makes up a good chunk of the gameplay. The boss battles, though tricky at first, follow a pattern which once grasped, makes them fairly easy to defeat. However, Horace has a few tricks up his sleeves to add something new to the tried and tested formula!
Our robot friend aquires various equipment and skills through his journey. His gravity boots mean climbing up the walls and hanging from the ceiling is the key to traversing the environments. This means a puzzle element is added to the mix as you work out which walls you need to be on to reach the other end of the room. Though overall this made it interesting and I liked it, there were times where I’d try and jump over gaps and end up sticking to the ceiling above. Often, the ceiling above would have enemies or hazards and I’d die, which was extremely frustrating if I’d been struggling too.
Horace can also acquire new skills by buying them from shops scattered throughout the world. Invest in the ability to breathe infinitely underwater, or have a Yoshi style hover jump to your arsenal! Money is earned by either selling the rubbish, and hidden valuables, that you’ve collected, or through doing jobs, which leads me nicely to my next point.
Filled with tonnes of mini-games, Horace is far from monotonous. Jobs include taking part in rhythm style games to wash dishes, and you will often be playing arcade games too. These would be parodies of classic games such as Pacman and Space Invaders, or my personal favourite, Meryl Streep Fighter.
Even when sleeping, there was a little mini game of Horace flying his in striped pyjamas through the sky. It was so much more creative than a loading screen, and all these mini games were simply a nice break from the platforming.
I did find the platforming quite tricky; having to jump over hazards quite tightly packed together was fiddly, and fast paced too as you have to get your timing right with electrical pulses and chainsaws in your path. Admittedly it made it all the more satisfying when I finally escaped from a room! Horace’s handy Lazarus chip means you instantly respawn, eliminating death loading screens too.
I’m a big fan of pixel art, and Horace did not disappoint. The level of detail in each place was simply stunning and is naturally full of references or humour if you keep an eye out. The shading was gorgeous, and jumping from metallic underground labs to the lush green grass of villages and sunny blue skies, was a joy to explore.
There were also instances where everything would be a silhouette, and once again this added variation to the game. There’s even a section in a trippy Alice in Wonderland style, with bright pulsing colours and a shrinking mechanic. You really never knew what would happen next!
I can’t gush more over the soundtrack too. Featuring both a memorable original soundtrack as well as classical songs such as Verdi Requiem – Dies Irae, it really ties the quirky and original title together. Additionally, it fits the rise and fall of emotions too, as well as the intensity.
By the time you’ve finished the main story (which hit me right in the feels), it’s likely that you won’t have picked up all the rubbish along the way, or even explored every part of the world. I didn’t, and I never got round to buying all the upgrades either. Therefore, there’s a good incentive to return to the game, helped by the fact it’s so pretty and the music so great too!
Without giving away spoilers, there’s an option at the end which seems as though it will end that save completely. You are free to continue playing until you do this though, so I haven’t technically ‘completed’ the game. But if you’re a completionist, one million pieces of rubbish is your aim to truly finish Horace!
So, do I deem Horace worthy of its most popular description? The short answer is yes! The story is surprisingly dark, emotional, but hilarious too. I fell in love with Horace and his journey and grew attached to the characters despite their flaws. The gameplay is quite challenging but more than varied enough to break any monotony. It looks and sounds gorgeous, and being made by just two people, it’s incredibly impressive and wonderfully unique.
However, I do think that, which is usually the case with quirkier titles, some people may not click with it. It is unusual to have a robot narrator, and the darker moments may be a bit too much for some. But for lovers of all things games, and old school platformers in particular, do not sleep on this indie gem! For 15+ hours of content for £10.99, it’s absolutely worthy of adding to your collection.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Horace for the Nintendo Switch here.