Note from Angie: Today I’m pleased to introduce Bohdan, who is going to be helping the blog out with PC game reviews and other articles of interest on a regular basis. Here’s his first review!
Hello, everyone! My name is Bohdan and I’ll be joining this wonderful establishment as a regular writer. There’s not much I can say about myself that you would find interesting, so I’ll just note that I’m a big fan of niche, low profile games of video kind. So you can expect me to write aplenty about those and if you’d like, you can let me (or Angie) know if there’s anything in particular that you would like to hear about. Cheers!
To describe Horace in its entirety would be a disservice to anyone who wants to play it. It is the same conundrum I have had a few years ago with Undertale. I wanted my friends to check it out, but if I were to say why I was so excited, it would ruin all the fun. Horace is that kind of game. If I were to describe Horace with a single sentence I would say that it is one of the best games I have played, period. And let me try to explain why you should play it too.
Story, where it all begins
Horace is a story about a friendly, yellow Robot. He’s a brainchild of an inventor referred to only as the Old Man. Robot spends the first year of his life in Old Man’s mansion. Here, Robot meets the eccentric cast of characters that live there and learns what it means to be human. Sans few tutorial interludes, the prologue is a chain of cutscenes, 30 to 40 minutes of them. Sounds excessive in a platformer, yet visuals and writing made those minutes fly-by.
As the testament to the latter, consider this: Horace, technically, has no voice acting. I’m saying “technically” because Robot himself, is voiced by a speech synthesizer. He also narrates what others are saying in the cutscenes. Despite that, every character that you meet is bursting with personality and charm. At first, I thought them to be nothing but a bunch of caricatures. After getting to know them better, I could not help but to love them, their quirks and misgivings all.
Robot is the undeniable star of the cast. Oftentimes, I forgot that I was listening to a voice synth. His blend of childish naivete with a dash of dry humor made every second spent in his company a bliss. Oftentimes, fiction fails at characterization of human-like robots, more human in a tin suit than a machine. Horace makes you believe that you are playing as a machine that sprung to life. That gives Robot a unique perspective on game’s events, yet the one with which it is easy to sympathize.
Horace proves that you don’t need high budgets to hit a home-run. To create a touching story and characters that feel real, all you need is the passion and the spark of mad genius and Horace has those aplenty.
The meat of the game: platforming
As Robot leaves to wander the world, first major gameplay mechanic makes its appearance. Cute red boots give Robot an ability to stick to any surface as if it was floor. At first, the game does not throw too many head-spinning gravity-defying shenanigans but it gets crazy fast. As there are four states of the room to consider every screen becomes a small puzzle. The jumps that might seem impossible become trivial from a different point of view. Literally.
A slow and deliberate introduction of the game did not prepare me for the fact that Horace is quite a hurdle. Not in the same league as infamous I Wanna Be the Boshy, but there is plenty of sections that hardcore platforming fans will find satisfying. Yet, it is hard to stay mad at Horace. It does not want to loathe in player’s frustration. Every screen has generous checkpoints and, should you die a little bit too much, the game provides you with a floating shield orb. These orbs will soak up one hit from most of the obstacles in the game while also making you immune to any damage for a short period. With a little practice, it allows you to skip the entire levels by clipping through obstacles. It may feel like cheating but is, nonetheless, hilarious.
And it is not like you have time to be frustrated either. For the most part, I was too amazed by Horace’s level design to even pay attention to the fact that I had already died like 12 times on a single screen. Either by an unexpected change of the locale, or a new mechanic, Horace manages to keep every challenge fresh in more ways than you would expect. Some stories are too difficult to tell inside a typical platforming level. Instead of wondering how to fit it all inside traditional hoops and jumps, Horace says it does not need to. It backs up its claims with such confidence, that I was amazed by its every new surprise. It makes me wonder why so few games try to do things that Horace does.
Collectables, exploration, that kind of stuff
In the second act of the game, Horace becomes a Metroidvania of sorts. The Old Man’s mansion becomes yours to explore and to conquer and to say that it is large would be an understatement. It is so large that if you want to just follow the story, you wouldn’t explore even half of the mansion. Every part of the mansion unique and distinct, with enough loot, platforming challenges, and easter eggs to keep you entertained.
Speaking of loot (which takes a form of scraps and other junk), it serves a two-fold purpose in Horace. Practically, you can dump it all in the scrapyard in exchange for money. You can spend money on the upgrades, which allow you to explore the game with more ease. Scraps also fill the narrative purpose as each piece of junk pushes Robot further towards his goal of collecting one million things. Allegedly, this will make him a real boy. But who knows. I can say that I skipped this overarching quest, as it required too much backtracking for me to find it enjoyable.
There are few other types of collectibles as well. Throughout the game you can find something known as “bad RAM”. There are also letters that, I assume, spell out Horace when you collect them (I did not find all of them). And, there are also some random things you can buy in the store, like lockets and bottles of hot sauce. Their purpose is alien to me, but you can collect them, if you want.
As much as I would love to talk more about what makes Horace such a beauty of a game, I fear that to say anything else would be approaching spoiler territory. The last thing I enjoy in game reviews is spoiling the fun of the game. So, let me just tell you about some issues that I have with the game. While they certainly do not ruin the experience, they do make some parts of it unnecessarily frustrating.
First: sound balance. The game has no idea how to balance its sound. Some elements (like picking up scraps) are loud, while others are barely audible. In-game dialogue jumps from being too quiet to hear over the music to ear-grating spikes in volume. After some tweaking, I found a balance of sorts, but I would rather do without this fiddling.
There is also something to tell about its main mechanic, which is gravity defiance. There are few moments, where it feels like Robot has a mind of its own, sticking to the surfaces arbitrarily. Considering that every switch of the surface comes with a rapid change of a camera angle, the game can become nauseating really fast. If you have a history of games with rapid movement making you dizzy, I am afraid that Horace would be a tough sell for you.
Controls issue becomes more obvious as the game adds more movement mechanics. It does not always feel like you died because of your mishaps but rather because the game decided to do its own thing. I will say that moments like these are rare and do not break the pace of the game. Like the sound issues, it is nothing major, but takes some time getting used to.
I did not know how to write about Horace and even now I am not sure if I did the game justice. But I really, really wanted to let people know that Horace exists. For the game of its ambition and its extraordinary realization, the game is in the dust. A phrase “hidden gem” gets thrown around quite a lot, but no other adjective better. A gem. One that I truly love.
Despite its flaws and a few rough edges, there are few games that I enjoyed as much as Horace. Every pixel, every note of a soundtrack, every byte of code, every line of text are filled with love, passion, and care so infectious that you cannot help but fall in love with it over and over again. And I did. And I hope that you will too.
Final Score: Excellent/Excellent