I have never experienced a platformer quite like Paul Helman’s Horace. Mainly the work of Helman and Sean Scaplehorn, the game is a platform adventure with a heavy emphasis on cinematics. What starts out as a light-hearted affair quickly turns into a more serious journey involving the fate of the world. Happily, the title’s distinctive British humor remains throughout. Just be prepared for a roller coaster of emotions.
A sprawling epic that never stays in one place
Things start off relatively simply in Horace. You take control of the titular character, who happens to be a robot with a conscience, and meet The Old Man who helped create you and his extended family in his fancy mansion. Horace then learns some platforming basics (jumping, ducking, running, etc.) and is exposed to the very best of human ingenuity (classical music and video games). A certain tragedy strikes not long afterward that results in you shutting down for years, and the family is scattered. Upon waking, you set out to reunite the crew while also fulfilling your maker’s wish to gather 1,000,000 pieces of junk. The collecting of refuse is important because the garbage acts as the game’s currency, as well as the method used to view the true ending.
The levels in Horace are broken up into chapters, 22 in total. Throughout each, your platforming skills will be put to the test as you visit locales both part of and out of this world. As you progress, your yellow robot will obtain new upgrades, like gravity-defying shoes, a vacuum that sucks up loose junk, and enhanced shoulders that let you plow through walls. Gravity-defying platforming is one of the game’s particular strong suits, in fact.
The Super Meat Boy-like platforming sections are quite intimidating but aren’t too much to worry about. After all, your creator built a fail-safe inside you that causes you to respawn upon taking a one-hit KO. Also, checkpoints are plentiful, and the game provides little face shields that each give an extra hit before dying should you fail a particular section constantly.
Variety is the name of the game
Though an action-adventure title at its core, Horace throws some wonderful homages your way that pay tribute to the developers’ love of video games. I won’t spoil them all, but I’ll mention a few out of context. Horace learns the importance of keeping rhythm, how to fly a spaceship, and why Breakout is such a cool arcade game. Above all, the robot with feelings comes to understand the undying influence of Pong. These references never let up throughout the game, and it’s all the stronger for it.
Speaking of diversity, did I mention Horace‘s boss fights? They are a wonderful mix of different genres that all play out differently. There is a race to the death against one adversary, a dangerous game of cards against another, and a collection of challenges that pay tribute to a certain popular British 8-bit personal home computer. All are a delight to experience, especially for older gamers who have been following the industry for years. They aren’t too frustrating, either, as each boss phase has its own checkpoint.
A few missteps here and there
There are a few issues with Horace. For starters, the title is full of pop culture references, from movies to television to music to video games. While I personally appreciated them, a lot of the in-jokes may fall flat for younger players. The game is also heavy on the cutscenes. I found the story quite engaging, but antsier gamers may wish to turn on the skip option for the cinematics to get back to the action quicker. The huge variety of gameplay types could be a turnoff for many, as well: Not every user is going to appreciate learning new inputs to conquer a minigame and may feel Horace loses a bit of a cohesive identity by trying to be so many things at once. Lastly, my adventure crashed once and I encountered a glitch where I couldn’t pick up shield power-ups. It was nothing a reboot didn’t fix, but hopefully a future patch will address these issues.
These drawbacks aside, I can heartily recommend Horace to action-adventure lovers. You’ll chuckle and shed a tear throughout your playtime while learning the techniques necessary to conquer the gravity manipulation-heavy platform sections. If you’re an old soul like me, you’ll also appreciate the many references to old-school gaming. Give this genre-defying title a chance if you want to experience something old and new at the same time.
A review code was provided by the publisher.