Horace Nintendo Switch Review

Horace is something special, full of memorable moments both dark and stirring that you won't want to miss out on

By Grayshadow, Posted 21 Oct 2020

Horace is a beautiful yet extremely profound tale about death, life, and purpose. With a robot’s adventure starting with it attempting to find his family but evolving into a tale with many layers. The visuals may convey a lighthearted tale and there are plenty of moments that complement this theme with funny jokes but the game evolves into a darker narrative as you progress. The platforming involves precision timing and a lot of critical thinking to solve but the overreliance to create so many challenging platforming sections can become overwhelming. Especially when needing to backtrack through nightmarish areas if you happen to take the wrong path, or being forced to swim in general. The boss fights and environments, while varied, often highlight Horace’s overreliance on stiffening many of the robot’s cooler abilities. Discouraging creative solutions in favor of strict direction. Despite the steep challenge, Horace is something special, full of memorable moments both dark and stirring that you won't want to miss out on.

Horace,NoobFeed,505 Games,

Horace is a rich tale about human empathy, life, and death. Horace starts off with a simple robot, performing basic platforming and becoming part of the Old Man’s family. The Old Man is his creator and who the robot learns from, this includes science, philosophy, and morality. The robot doesn’t truly understand what he’s feeling or why but trusts those around him and develops a strong bond with the family. Eventually gaining some minor sovereignty in the way of specific likes, for example, the robot loves video games, trying new things, and spending time with the Old Man’s family.

The story is told through the robot’s perspective as it reiterates everything that is being said. This was likely for budget reasons as the robot uses a text-to-speech voice but it provides a complete understanding of how the robot is interpreting everything that’s happening. Despite the retro visuals, the characters throughout this tale have a robust array of emotions. It's easy to tell when someone is feeling frustrated or happy thanks to great character models. They’re simple but effective even when dealing with heavily emotional scenes that involve sacrifice.

The story isn’t all light-hearted as the narrative takes sharp turns into sinister territory despite the whimsical retro visuals and musical score. Subjects such as war, death, and loss are constantly sprouting up as the robot attempts to find those he loved. After a devastating moment, the robot shuts down, unable to process the event, and wakes to see his home crumbling and everyone was gone. The robot starts his journey to search for his family while also collecting lots of junk. The reason being that his creator told him it when the robot asked about his purpose in life. This was just to serve as a placeholder as existence and purpose isn’t something you can just tell someone. Unlike Rick from Rick and Morty who simply tells his robot creation that he was created to pass butter here the robot has a larger reason for existing and that’s up for it to find out.

Horace,NoobFeed,505 Games,

To the robot, it’s just spending time with those he cares about and trying to make them happy. Eventually, these views change as more of the world is exposed to the robot. Learning of what happened while it was shut down, how the people around him changed, and why there are so many robots like him. There was more death than I expected here.

There are many characters here such as Mr. Silton who is seen to be aggressive but only because he cares about his family and friends. Preston is a more carefree person who often serves as the group's diffuser and so many more. The robot remains the star throughout as it attempts to do what it thinks its right not based on its own reasoning but what others expect of it. Slowly gaining independence as it attempts to make its own choices on how it wishes to continue forward.

Horace doesn’t do a great job of maintaining its immersion. The story often has the robot taking on difficult obstacles and deadly robots but the human NPCs seem to have the ability to teleport. For example, during an earlier chapter, the robot is told to look through a window on the top floor of a building. An easy enough task that has the robot avoiding electrical barb wire and using its gravity shoes but once you reach the top the same old man somehow instantly appears beside you. Instances like this are incredibly common such as a young girl bypassing deadly obstacles within the robot’s home with ease and appearing out of nowhere.

Much of the game has you completing platforming challenges, defeating bosses, and collecting equipment and junk. The junk isn’t a requirement and mostly serves as a way to earn currency from the in-game world. Other ways include working in jobs which are rhythm-based mini-games that provide income based on the player’s performance. The money earned can be used to purchase new upgrades for the robot or tickets at the train station. Money is abundant and by Chapter 8 I had more than enough for all the significant upgrades and never needed to worry about train tickets. The upgrades range from purchasing video games, mobility enhancing upgrades, or increased shielding. These upgrades are all optional but getting them does provide better control for the robot.

The world is semi-open with an array of locations that the player can travel to. There’s no fast traveling, which can be annoying especially when trying to collect the million junk optional requirements. This can become incredibly taxing as you’ll have to complete the same platforming challenges to get to these locations.

The robot can equip shielding that can take 1 fatal hit. At first, you can obtain 2 at a time but eventually, you can upgrade this. Players don’t need to use the shielding or can save them for later challenges. If hit with a shield active the robot becomes immortal for a few seconds before becoming vulnerable. If you happen to fail too much the game will provide free shield pickups to aid the player. But ultimately these serve as ways to make the game harder or easier depending on the player’s choice since there’s 1 standard difficulty for the game.

Horace,505 Games,NoobFeed,

Platforming and level design are where Horace shines. The game is teeming with physics puzzles and timed platforming sections that take advantage of the robot’s gravity-defying feats and other abilities. The gravity system is the most used that involves climbing on various surfaces to reach specific sides of platforms that are safe. The robot’s tie indicates where the bottom is located so you are constantly aware of your position. If killed, and you’re going to die a lot, respawning is instant. Players who’ve become accustomed to dropping down from a ledge will need to change their playstyle because of the gravity system. Since the robot clings to surfaces you need to jump before you can land on the platform below.

The game does have Metroidvania elements to it, with the robot’s home serving as the largest map in the game. With multiple paths unlocked through obtaining upgrades. The robot will learn these after certain fights by installing software updates. Most of these are simply for platforming purposes.

The controls are simple but some of the game’s controls are just strange. For example, when a cutscene plays the game will pause the scene regardless of which button you press. Most games use to start for this but with Horace even hitting the joystick will pause the cutscene. In addition, you have to hold up on the joystick to climb up chains which can lead to a lot of frustrating moments during chase sequences. Since you have to hold forward to maintain your momentum having to shift the joystick up drops the robot’s speed. Equal levels of frustration are present for throwing and lifting objects. Both are linked to the sprint button so it’ll become common to throw something when you’re attempting to sprint with the object. This can become infuriating during boss encounters where precision is necessary.

Horace,NoobFeed,505 Games,

Horace does require a great deal of backtracking during the later levels. The game offers little shortcuts and returning to an area requires you to redo the entire platforming section. This can be incredible vexing as most sections are littered with hazards with no room for error. The first time around is great but the second or third time it becomes repetitive and annoying. Most modern Metroidvania games have modernized these systems by providing an array of shortcuts, eliminating the puzzle platforming challenges once completed, or making the player more powerful so obstacles are not a chore to deal with once again but that concept is absent in Horace. Some shortcuts do exist but most of the time, the player will have to retread the same territory and do the same challenges. Since Horace relies heavily on precision-based platforming where a slight error is punished you can guess redoing these same sections over and over will be upsetting. The extensive need to retread platforming sections repeatedly often feels like padding.

The swimming parts of Horace are plain terrible. Halfway through the game, the robot gains the ability to swim but it’s horrible to control. Instead of using an appealing system like pointing in a direction and propelling yourself with ease, Horace relies on momentum and the robot will sink like a stone quickly. Coupled this with tight tunnels, the robot unable to stay underwater for more than 10 seconds, 1 hit deaths, and enemies speeding through the area and you have a recipe for disaster. Having a simple direction input without having the robot fall would’ve made these sections less annoying but instead made swimming sections artificially harder.

The game can feel like it’s against the player after Chapter 11. Frequently obstacles are placed to prevent the player from dashing past certain sections and other times the placement of certain things can be downright perplexing. For example, in Chapter 11 you have to get past a swimming pool but for some reason, there are spikes on the side of the platforms. Instead of giving the player some creative freedom, you’re restricted to a very specific path and if you happen to take the wrong one it ends with death. This was likely due to the robot’s gravity skill which would allow the player to bypass huge sections if not limited but the developers seemed to take a sledgehammer to this. Instead of having some room for error that the shoes could provide the developers instead placed 1-kill obstacles everywhere they could. 

Horace,NoobFeed,505 Games,

Horace does remain loyal to its gravity focused platforming but it does change things up to break up the pace. This includes sections such as playing through classic games with a twist to them, musical mini-games, driving sections, and even going first-person. Much of the game will rely on the gravity system but often the game will change things such as collecting keys, destroying obstacles, or using a button to propel a platform across gaps. Sometimes you’ll need to guide lasers or use objects to manipulate the environment. There’s plenty of varied options constantly being introduced and used in different ways to complement the robot’s abilities.

The boss fights are numerous and each one has been crafted to include unique elements, sometimes taking features from other popular games. When they work these fights become nostalgic unique experiences that test your precision and problem-solving skills and when they don’t they become a test of mettle. For example, in Chapter 11 you have to face a random stone creature robot whose fight consists of a modified version of Arkanoid. However, the creature can sling pinecones that explode into smaller pellets in a dome-like pattern. You have to avoid these while trying to repel the boulders it’s also throwing or it’ll destroy the bridge but due to the dome pattern attempting to hit those boulders can be impossible including having to carry a log that reduces your mobility. There are other instances of bosses using techniques that aren’t fair such as tracking the robot’s position with an attack that includes a huge hitbox or the classic video game annoyance of shooting through walls. Thankfully the developers included mid-fight checkpoints and the load times are instant. If you wish you can refight any of the boss encounters again, listen to the game’s soundtrack, and watch all the cinematics again through an unlockable theater option. 

Perhaps one of the most appealing things about Horace is the mass array of easter eggs. The developers have included so many references that it’ll be hard to go through a chapter without noticing a few. Street Fighter, Seinfield, Friends, RoboCop, and so many iconic musical scores have been placed throughout the title. I had a joy finding them but it never came to the point that they overshadowed the game itself.

While I didn’t encounter major technical issues the game did crash on me twice and once I had to force a hard restart. It’s nothing major and the game’s save system did keep my progress but it’s worth noting that it can happen.

Horace,NoobFeed,505 Games,

Horace is a challenging 12-15 hour adventure. The mass pop-culture references are definitely a shining feature throughout and the story is a heartwarming tale with a lot of mature elements. With constant twists that both shock yet never feel out of place. The platforming and Metroidvania elements are fantastic but they’re constantly hindered by lots of backtracking and punishingly hard situations that could’ve been addressed with small improvements. Shortcuts, removing certain obstacles after a room has been completed, or offering a fast travel system would’ve gone a long way. Horace is an indie gem that will test even the most seasoned gamer’s skill and a story full of touching moments.

Adam Siddiqui,
Managing Editor, NoobFeed
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General Information

Horace

85/100

Platform(s): Switch, PC
Publisher(s): 505 Games
Developer(s): Paul Helman, Sean Scapelhorn
Genres: Action, Adventure
Themes: Action, Adventure
Release Date: 2019-07-18

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