Horace (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Michael McCann 18.04.2021 3

Review for Horace on Nintendo Switch

Wearing socks with sandals, air travel, sunglasses indoors, bottom implants, pouring cold juice onto breakfast cereal… *Deep breath* Cheese rolling, free jazz, the sport and continued record breaking of cup stacking, dressage and Nicolas Cage. - These are all odd things that exist in the world. And, as of late, it seems there is a dissonance that is going on within western cultural discourse that's making it increasingly difficult to be odd, to find odd things. Many of the eccentricities and vagaries of the past feel less frivolous today, familiar even, like a xerox of an old boot, and sometimes it appears we are all flattening the curve out to a binary decision which adds up to one. Perhaps then, if there was a retro throwback collectathon story-driven mini-game-laden platformer on the market for Nintendo Switch, maybe things would be different. Well! Dream no more! Add Horace to the list because Horace is odd. An addendum: The sock thing, honestly? Don't we wear socks enough!?

Brought into the world by "The Old Man," the titular Horace is a robot that, after tragedy strikes, seeks to find his purpose and, much like a page out of the old classic Pinnochio character arc, to 'become a real boy'. Horace decides that helping people will be his purpose in life as well as cleaning up one million things - something which is conveyed directly through gameplay objectives. A strong focus is placed on this exposition and cutscene throughout, all told from the narrative perspective, and the Windows 95 early speech synthesis-like voice of Horace himself; because of this, there's always a certain sensation of disconnect with the narrative, a disconnect that's maybe not too dissimilar to that of what the protagonist must perceive as it engages with the world as a fish out of water. It's not clear if this is intentional, or indeed if this is an accurate take on it at all, but it is something that was hard not to notice.

Getting into it, in practice what transpires is an odd mixture of platforming, the odd boss battle and the collecting of rubbish interspersed with frequent vignettes that are chock full of direct or indirect, and also slightly dated, pop culture references and musings on the meaning of life. You might see Derick Trotter's van backfiring in the background or enter a shop that looks suspiciously like a certain Mr Ben's shop in passing. It's a fun and quirky aspect to Horace but these references also might pass one by if they didn't grow up in Britain within a very specific time period - or see Star Wars that one time. It is quite a strange and unique blend of elements more so that it is garnished prominently with a distinct sense of humour as well. It could be described as a little bit lame here, a little bit dad-joke territory, but certainly no less charming or entertaining for it.

Screenshot for Horace on Nintendo Switch

Levels and platforming do not play out as a typical left-to-right affair in Horace, their structures can often feel like a throwback to the one-man bedroom coding days of the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 - maybe even an early 90's Dos title but with some modernised graphics thrown in. (In fact, there was a classic retro Horace series that harkens from that era!) Each chapter generally has an area that acts as a kind of hub with multiple rooms, tangents and activities that can be explored and one overarching main objective that will drive progression forward. These objectives are often quite varied, one moment you can be collecting magic mushrooms for Mr Stilton, and the next saving people from being trapped inside a burning house. Minigames also crop up semi-frequently outside of the core mechanics, and in the early goings, this mixing pot of elements can be a little confusing, particularly for trying to get a grasp on what Horace is. Many of the minigames act as a nod to the aforementioned classic era but they also never feel quite as developed as the main offering, even impeding progress in places. Quite early on we're presented with a Pong minigame whereby three points must be scored to continue. This doesn't sound like much, right? However, the paddle is tiny, in conjunction with an even smaller hitbox which excludes the paddle handle in it, making it difficult to return the ball, and input sensitivity is set so high that this just isn't really that fun to do. Horace is littered, no pun intended, with these moments, and though it can be good for breaking up the pace, it would have benefited from more of these being optional here.

The core gameplay does fare better, although here too Horace makes some oddball choices. Overall, the running and jumping doesn't feel bad but it doesn't feel particularly great either. The game elects to start the player off without some basic mechanics, such as a hit-point system. It is a system that alleviates many of the main gripes with the platforming initially. Checkpoints can place reasonable penalties on the player for minor mistakes, particularly in these early stages, oftentimes setting progress quite far back to whatever the last door was that was exited from. Decisions like these only serve to emphasise those types of issues and make certain upgrades feel like progression for the sake of progression.

Around chapter 3, the map opens up and Horace is awarded the aforementioned upgrades as well as a pair of shoes that allow him to stick to any surface. This ability is the central mechanic in Horace, changing the way one must think about traversing the levels, presenting some new and interesting challenges. In one instance the character needed to pick up an object that was in a different gravity field to themselves and then use that object's weight against their own gravity field to jump higher to navigate an obstacle. Ideas like this are great and much welcomed. Sticking to the walls though can be cumbersome as the camera will jerk around, and it's a little too easy and a little too often that one will stick accidentally to the wrong surface. Collecting one million things is also sadly just not that rewarding. Rubbish is strewn everywhere across levels, much like actual rubbish. It's all very haphazard. Some collectables are completely obscured from view by foreground objects and larger collectables need to be stood next to for a couple of seconds to pick up, slowing proceedings down to a crawl. Again, there are upgrades to help with this but they're still a grind to get and it's not readily communicated until a later chapter, somewhat obfuscating the possibility. Some rubbish even is found in bins that need to be picked up and thrown to then collect. The detritus inside can be picked up but then the discarded and smashed up bin is just left behind, like litter. Maybe that's the joke?

Screenshot for Horace on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Unquestionably Horace is doing his own thing and is something that has a truly different flavor within the current 2D platform scene. However, due to its ambition to get everything but the kitchen sink hanging off the core experience much of the ride can often come off as undercooked or misguided. Difficulty spikes are all too frequent, as are the electrified fences which populate every single level, and quickly become tired. Many mechanics aren't communicated clearly enough and do generally need more polish to feel good. It all gets in the way of the things that Horace does do well because it is full of likeable characters, ideas, charm and heart. In fact it possesses a pathos that will probably appeal to many but it's just a bit uneven and awkward at the same time. Maybe it's the throwback design influences that are slightly too far outside of this reviewer's reach to appreciate and retro fans that remember playing the ZX spectrum will find a lot more to get out in this title. The desire is strong to get on with Horace, it really is, and he might even make you laugh at times, but just like the guy wearing socks and sandals, there are too many things holding it back.

Also known as

Horace

Developer

Paul Helman & Sean Scaplehorn

Publisher

505 Games

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date None   North America release date None   Japan release date None   Australian release date None   

Comments

I remember when this scored 10/10 on... was it PC here? I jumped on the Switch version eagerly anticipating an immense experience, only to come away quite frustrated so many times.

There are great elements to it, and the platforming can be fun at times... but it's SO repetitive in places, there are too many random elements thrown in to try to mix things up at times that don't work, and there's just an 'off' feeling in other places.

Maybe I wouldn't have dropped down to a 5, but I totally see where you're coming from. Perhaps I'd have gone with a 6, unless coming off the back of one of the more annoying sections Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

yeah, I don't really get it, or those scores, myself but it clearly is a labor of love.

Horace is an acquired taste gameplay-wise and pretty self indulgent, but it's honestly why I loved it so much. 

jesusraz said:
I remember when this scored 10/10 on... was it PC here? I jumped on the Switch version eagerly anticipating an immense experience, only to come away quite frustrated so many times.

There are great elements to it, and the platforming can be fun at times... but it's SO repetitive in places, there are too many random elements thrown in to try to mix things up at times that don't work, and there's just an 'off' feeling in other places.

Maybe I wouldn't have dropped down to a 5, but I totally see where you're coming from. Perhaps I'd have gone with a 6, unless coming off the back of one of the more annoying sections Smilie


I stand by my 9 Smilie

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