Horizon Shift '81 (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Renan Fontes 20.03.2019

Review for Horizon Shift

A staple of the arcade experience, the shoot 'em up genre has never been quite too popular in the modern gaming atmosphere, but has always found a place from generation to generation. Unlike other genres that tend to ebb and flow with the times - and perhaps because of its relatively niche nature - shmups have always been in the "background" of gaming culture. In a generation where most indie titles are content paying tribute to the past without doing much else, most modern shmups feel anything but. While this does make for a healthy blast from the past, keeping old school design philosophies alive, it is important that a genre evolves. While Horizon Shift '81 certainly presents itself as another arcade shoot 'em up, it also brings an elegance that is often missing when repurposing a genre for a modern audience.

At first glance, Horizon Shift '81 is very much a typical, arcade-esque shoot 'em up. Visually, it's not too much different from its arcade brethrens, at least in terms of aesthetics. Getting into technicalities, the title is far crisper on a visual level and makes better use of its colour palette than its predecessors would have been able. Even musically, the score it stylized to sound right in place at an arcade. CTR effects can also be found tucked away in the settings, clearly catering to those nostalgic for the arcade experience. That said, starting up the game itself makes it abundantly clear that this is not a typical shmup on any level other than superficial. Not only are there six modes to choose from, but the main mode, 'Arcade Classic,' features progression through check points and full on boss fights.

That said, this is not where Horizon Shift '81 strays away from being just another entry in its genre. Rather, it's through its core mechanic. In-game, players can shift themselves between two separate plans at just about any given time in order to attack enemies from above and below. It is a fairly minor shift to the title's core design, but it's one that pays off exponentially as the levels progress. With enemies coming from both sides, the gameplay loop becomes less about anticipating how enemies are descending and focuses more on reflex-based gameplay. In later levels in particular, survival comes down to quick hand-eye coordination. Enemies come in waves as expected, but being able to flick back and forth between planes while quickly moving left or right adds an incredible amount of depth to a genre that already has its fair share of nuances.

Screenshot for Horizon Shift '81 on Nintendo Switch

Certainly adding to the level of depth is the dash mechanic which allows players to ram into enemies at the right time in order to take them out. Between a melee-esque approach to combat and the traditional long-range shooting, there is never a dull moment from stage to stage. With that in mind, it is worth noting that boss fights tend to be a bit blander than any given stage. They more exist as pace breakers, ensuring the flow of gameplay has a proper peak and rise, but they aren't as engaging as the standard waves in general. There's nothing particularly wrong with the bosses from a design perspective, but they seldom make as much use of the core mechanics as waves of enemies do.

Of particular interest is the checkpoint mechanic. The main mode actually saves level progress after boss fights ensuring that the campaign doesn't have to be cleared in one go. While this fundamentally goes against the genre's core design, it does allow the difficulty to curve upwards rather quickly without coming off too extreme or unfair. As players will never need to completely start over unless they so choose to do so, progress can consistently be made from session to session. Horizon Shift '81 is hardly a bait and switch scenario as it clearly is a part of its genre on a fundamental level, but it experiments in a way that few tribute titles tend to do. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but instead finds a new purpose for it, creating a rich experience that's both familiar and novel in a modern age.

Screenshot for Horizon Shift '81 on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Although Horizon Shift '81 deliberately models itself after the shoot 'em ups of yore, it never once lets itself get lost in its own homage. Almost immediately, the game design makes it perfectly clear that this is merely borrowing an aesthetic as a base. In taking such a familiar concept, hardcore fans of the genre will be able to appreciate the simple brilliance of shooting at enemies from both sides of the screen. With enemies invading from both top and bottom, the core gameplay loop takes on an even more frantic energy than is typical for the genre. This is one of the most charming takes on the shmup genre yet.


Flump Studios







C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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