Horace is a platforming adventure, following the life of a little robot as he learns about life, the universe, and Douglas Adams. Developed by Paul Helman and Sean Scalpelhorn. and published by 505 Games.
Horace is a small robot, that is built and delivered to a mansion. At the mansion waits for him a whole new family. With shades of Frankenstein and Pinocchio, and a character even noting the similarity to the latter, the story of Horace is a touching tale. As Horace learns about himself and his purpose. And becomes a family with those that surround him. But tragedy befalls them. And Horace’s new life is turned upside down. As he continues on his journey to clean a million things. And become a real boy in the process.
One of the finest stories I’ve seen in gaming. Filled with heart and humour. Much like the works of Douglas Adams. The story is set in a quirky, weird world. But the characters are lovable. It’s very easy to form a bond with the whole cast.
Other than Horace. There is an old man, his family. A butler and a driver. Very reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film. And I mean that in the best possible way.
What is Horace? A platformer essentially. But with elements of gravity manipulation. A driving segment. A flying segment. Tons of little mini-games, generally revolving around classic games. Or various rhythm challenges.
The game begins slowly by getting you accustomed to your basic skills. You can run, jump, crouch. Shortly after this you gain more abilities. With the game eventually giving you all sorts of things. Such as the ability to walk on walls and roofs. The ability to pick up items and throw them. And to find various items to use. Such as switches and hiding places. Just to name a few.
While most of the levels are platforming. There are various other mini-games. And transitional levels. Which break up the monotony of purely platforming.
Some levels will also contain boss battles. Which are largely bullet hells. The game is quite difficult. With Horace dying from a single hit. However, due to a special Lazarus chip, he can respawn an unlimited amount of times. Later on you will also be able to get shield bots. That will take a hit for Horace. Which makes things a lot easier. The game even gives you some if you fail a particular part too many times.
Horace uses classic pixel art. And it is some of the finest pixel art I’ve seen. The characters are 16 bit. Which means the pixels are quite large. Yet they are still able to convey subtle emotions. Some areas, in particular roads. Are a slightly different style. Being more like CG sections in an anime like Initial D. However they blend well with the Pixel art style of the rest of the game.
Normally I wouldn’t dedicate a section to references. However, there are just so many well-implemented references to talk about. Other than the stated Frankenstein and Pinocchio references. The story also contains references to everything from Mario to Reservoir Dogs. Some are relegated to visual Easter eggs. Such as a room in the TV studio containing among other things. The Xoltan machine from the movie Big. Wilson the beach ball from Castaway. Jason Voorhees Mast from Friday the 13th and many more. Honestly, there are so many wonderful little references in the game that I’ve probably forgotten.
Text to speech is terrible. Inflections are wrong, it doesn’t convey the emotion of a real voice actor. It sounds monotonous and boring. And it is used exclusively in Horace. To a wonderful effect. As Horace is a robot, the text to speech style voice is fitting. And it manages to not only sound comical but convey the naivety and emotion of the character. Horace narrates the whole game. His own thoughts and the other characters dialogue. Which would be annoying in most games with this much dialogue. But again it works flawlessly.
Musically there are all sorts of different sounds and moods. Everything from classical pieces like Fur Elise and the Planet Suite, to the themes from John Carpenter’s Halloween, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Mission Impossible. There are even large sections of the game which focus on the music including the rhythm minigames.
Sound effect wise you have the squeak of Horace when he jumps. The sounds of various hazards and traps. And collection sounds for when you pick up a shield or clean garbage.
What originally seemed like a fun little game about a cute robot. Very quickly began to show more depth, charm, and heart than most games I’ve played in recent times. Heartwarming and frustrating in equal measure. I found myself so lost in the game that I didn’t realise how long I had been playing. Whether it is to find out what happens next in the story. Or to prove to myself I can beat the next tricky platforming section. I found Horace to be an addictive experience in the best way.
It seems obvious to me that the game was a labour of love from the developers. Not only is there a heartfelt story and tight mechanics. But there is so much polish. For instance, Horace runs with his arms behind him, the “Naruto” run, but when he gets a hat he uses one hand to hold the hat down. Horace also gains a suit with a tie. And when you walk on the walls the tie will follow the rules of gravity. For a full team of a dozen or more people, this game would be a masterpiece. For two people, it’s an astonishment.
Rating: 10/10 – An amazing story, incredibly tight mechanics and a lot of gameplay, this is an easy recommendation, for anyone that can beat some particularly tough platforming.
Genre: 2D Platformer, Puzzle
Developer: Paul Helman and Sean Scalpelhorn
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: 19 July 2019