I…I think Horace has broken me. I think, finally, that my insatiable lust for long games with gameplay driven by the narrative has been sated. Horace is long. Like…really long. Twenty-two chapters of pixelated side-scrolling, running, jumping, topsy-turvy long. And it’s almost too much for me. This is our Horace review.
Horace is a cutesy pixelated indie game that takes you, the titular Horace, on a journey through time and space. An eccentric old professor turns you on and then sets about setting you some basic tasks, the main one to clean up a million items of rubbish. It’s all rather happy with a smidge of peril and then the poop hits the fan. A massive accident and the family is spread to the wind. Horace wakes up after who knows how long, with his master’s last command still active; clean up a million pieces of rubbish. As far as player motivations go, I’ve seldom heard worse. Horace plays out like a weird British version of Bicentennial Man crossed with the post-apocalypse bits of any Terminator film.
The story plays out by Horace narrating. By that I mean the developers ran their script through Windows Text To Speech. It fits perfectly. It’s one of those sly little humorous nods that are littered through the game, although it is crushingly British. Nods to weekend television hosts and northern soap operas abound, and the light touches of humor are a well-balanced foil to the overarching melancholy of the main story.
If you wanted to get invested in Horace because you’ve heard rumor of the rightfully deserved accolade of an engaging story-driven by gameplay, be warned. Horace is hard. Stupidly hard. Battletoads-hard in places. It’s very odd that a developer pushes the aspect of the gameplay driven by the narrative would forget to mention that there’s elements of the game that’d put a SNES controller through a window, to the point that it will push a lot of prospective players away.
If you can get past that, Horace is beautifully rewarding.
As Horace, looking like a cross between a Lego guy and Iron Man in a terribly old-fashioned suit, you set off on a titanic journey to find your family. The game will take you through some wonderfully vivid different levels, from war-torn cityscapes, underground sewers where you’re relentlessly pursued by running water and evading the horrors that were previous models of android. The oddest thing about Horace is that the primary mission, set out at the beginning, is a total by-product of playing the game.
You want to play Horace to solve the puzzles, to further the story and to see what’s around the next corner. Will you end up fighting a flame-spewing boss or playing one of the many mini-games littered through the adventure that are straight-up ports of 16-bit classics from that generation of consoles. The breaks from the side-scrolling show just how much thought and personal passion has gone into the creation of the game. There’s also a totally bitching Guitar Hero sequence. And, to a fairly large extent, the love of SNES-era platforming. You’ll either love or hate the nostalgia pandering, but in an era where everyone is certain that the kids in Stranger Things had it the best out of anyone, I think we’re safe.
You pick up a pair of low gravity boots early in the game that helps you get about. The level design is nothing short of fantastic and giving the player that extra dimension to literally twist the level to their whim is absolutely inspired. I did get a giggle of sending Horace into space by flipping the world upside down then jumping ‘up’, causing the dimension-spinning boots to never touch the earth again and the game plays out a cutscene where Horace is catapulted into the endless void.
Couple that with some tidy water manipulation mechanics, object-dodging in boss fights you’ve got a game that could have so easily been a standard 2D puzzler but sets it apart from the rest of the herd, even in an era of retro-innovation.