This review was written for Horace’s Nintendo Switch release.
Horace is a story about a friendly robot on a quest to clean one million things. Except it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple. This is a glorious melting pot of beautiful artwork, clever references, and inimitably British humour all tied together by some rather hardcore platforming levels.
It was released in 2019, making its way to Switch in October last year, thus further confirming the handheld/home console hybrid’s true nature as an amazing portable indie game machine. And Horace is amazing – it is! The story is beautifully told, the gameplay is tight, and it has a heart of gold. It’s hard not to cheer for our gentle tin man as he jumps, dashes and… randomly inflates himself across the world. He’s a nice bloke, despite the overwhelming sense that most of the people around him just want to take advantage. There’s a lot of dark undertones to Horace, but they’re never lingered upon for long enough to subtract from the whimsical face it presents..
I was in love with Horace within moments. The mix of pixel art, chiptuned classical music and heartwarming, offbeat storytelling was speaking my language. It’s a slow start – the fundamentals of movement, layering new techniques in one at a time, getting you slowly acquainted with the Meat Boy-esque “Die all the time, revive very quickly” mechanics. The pacing is excellent, presenting you with new upgrades just as you think you might have a proper handle on the game’s flow, constantly disrupting and rejigging the game’s complexity. Probably the most significant and impactful change is the very first one, though – a pair of shoes that let Horace walk on walls and ceilings.
The levels – and eventually the ingenious bossfights – revolve around this. It takes a little while to wrap your head around, but when it eventually clicks, the sense of momentum is extraordinary. Enemy in the way? Just jump onto the goddamn ceiling and scoot the hell away. It’s essentially like giving the player the power to rotate the levels at will, and it’s used to maximum effect. Without spoiling anything, it gets mixed up with the other powers beautifully, often presenting the player with surprising challenges that look obscure at first but become incredibly simple in theory once you’ve got the gist of it.
Simple in theory. That’s the important part. Because for all the work Horace’s wit and charm does to delude you, to make you think that this game is your friend and it wants nothing more to elicit a good chuckle, it does eventually decide that you can go fuck yourself. It’s a tricky game – the instant revive does a lot to alleviate frustrations while you figure things out but as you progress the difficulty just slowly upticks to the point where I was no longer enjoying the challenge. The sometimes disorienting designs of the maps don’t help matters either – I spent about twenty minutes perfecting one section only to realise I was doing it in the wrong direction all along.
Fail enough times and the game condescendingly gives you a shield, and I accepted it every time with the energy of a man choosing methadone over heroin. I’m not sure it’s really a criticism. I’m sure many of the people reading this would be able to walk through Horace’s later challenges without breaking a sweat, and I think to an extent I was just feeling like that adorable robotic little bastard had led me on. “Yes, come here, laugh at the vintage British humour, enjoy my zany powers” He chirped, before grabbing the back of my face and ramming my face into an industrial cheesegrater repeatedly.
My possible trauma aside, Horace is a really great platforming experience. It pushes the boundaries of what we know the genre can do in terms of gameplay and storytelling, and even if you’re a bit of an incompetent fat-finger like me, you should definitely give it a go. You might not be able to finish it, but you’ll be enchanted by what you see.