Review – Horace (Switch)

505 Games’ Horace took us all by surprise last year. This little indie seemed to come out of nowhere and instantly cemented itself as a platforming classic. I’ve been eager to play it ever since reading Leo Faria’s review of it, but with so many other games to review myself, I simply couldn’t find the time. Now with it making it way to the Switch, I had to take advantage of this perfect opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.

You play as the titular robot, Horace, whose introduction seems very reminiscent of The Bicentennial Man. He’s brought in from a factory to a wealthy family, where the head of the house, mainly referred to as “the old man”, intends to use him for menial tasks around the house. Before long, the old man (who’s also conveniently a scientist) begins to run other coding experiments on him to make him more human in nature. I don’t want to go into much more detail than that, as Horace has a lot of narrative surprises along the way.

Horace

Well, activated at any rate.

I will say that like my colleague, Leo, I was surprised by the amount of depth Horace delivered. On the surface it seems like a cutesy tale of a robot helping a family and wanting to be a “real boy”, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Horace presents themes of war, death, family, existentialism, and acceptance throughout its tale. Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of silly scenarios, humor (particularly British humor), and pop-culture references throughout the game. However, it doesn’t shy away from truly emotionally impactful moments either.

In the beginning of the game, Horace is tasked to find and clean one million pieces of trash. He is told that in doing so, he’ll be granted one wish. While there are many other facets to this game, collecting trash is the one that will always give Horace his sense of purpose. They’re not kidding when they say to pick up one million pieces of trash, either. Believe me when I say that this game is a lot longer than most people will expect. 

Horace

You can find the members from the casts of Seinfeld, Friends, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air in the town of Sitcombe.

Horace is a 2D platformer for the most part, but it does have a metroidvania feel since you’ll have to revisit areas after acquiring specific upgrades. There’s no combat whatsoever, but Horace will gain certain perks that will help him along the way, like powerful gloves for lifting objects and even shields. The platforming can be incredibly tough, but it never feels unfair. The controls are tight and responsive, but even so, just expect to die. A lot. It’s not Celeste levels of insane platforming, but it’s still ridiculously challenging. Thankfully, you have unlimited lives and will respawn at the start of a section if you fail. My one piece of advice if playing Horace on Switch is to use a Pro controller if you have one. Precision platforming can be a nightmare with any Joy-Cons that have drift issues.

Horace

Welcome to the jungle, we’ve got fun and games!

Aside from the platforming, Horace does offer other gameplay styles in the forms of mini-games. These can be found in dream sequences, odd jobs, and in any of the arcades found in each area. I have to admit, I probably spent way too much time in the arcades, but the games are just so addicting. Each of the games found there are homages to other well-known titles. There are game inspirations of every variety in here, from Pong to Guitar Hero. These are a wonderful addition to an already stellar game and help break up some of the more difficult platforming sections.

This laser beam puzzle is just one of many varieties of puzzle that can be found throughout the game.

It’s obvious that a lot of care and attention to detail went in to making Horace. It uses a 16-bit art style that doesn’t look cheaply retro. In fact, each character and every environment has a remarkable amount of detail. However, my biggest gripe with the art design is the fact that they do a lot of closeups on faces. Normally this would be fine, but since all of the sprites are rendered in 16-bit format, zooming in close just stretches the pixels too much. Oddly, when the camera zooms in close, it’s actually harder to see what’s going on. Unfortunately, a lot of emotions become muddled when the camera fixes tightly on someone’s face. 

At least someone appreciates Bob Hoskins’ version of Mario. Not me, but someone on the development team.

Although, even though the visuals sometimes detract from the emotional nature of the story, the sound design more than makes up for it. The only vocal performance comes from Horace, who is telling the story from his perspective. This works well for numerous reasons. It keeps you more tied to Horace as a character and it adds a lot of humor when bizarre circumstances happen around. His deadpan innocence is the perfect counterbalance to some of the insanity that surrounds him. Truth be told, I’m amazed that someone doing a monotone robotic voice could deliver so much poignancy.

The music is another strong point, as Horace uses tons of classical orchestral songs. Each song fits the area its in perfectly, ranging from “Moonlight Sonata” to “Danse Macabre”. There are some original melodies in here as well, mostly done in the older chiptune style. Regardless of the style its presented, they’re guaranteed to get you into the right frame of mind for what’s to come.

There are fantastic Rockband/Guitar Hero inspired mini-games in here. My favorite is the McTallica version. No, that’s not a typo.

Horace is an indie darling that I’m thrilled to have finally played. It is a breath of fresh air in a sea of cheap retro-inspired garbage. Not only does it have brutally tough yet fair gameplay, but it also delivers a shockingly deep story. The developers knew exactly how to keep things light and entertaining, especially with their puns and pop-culture references. However, they also knew when to pull back the levity to make the serious moments really hit home. Horace is a game of great challenge, quirky humor, and heart-wrenching storytelling, all wrapped up in an adorable package. You simply cannot let this game pass you by. I’m certainly glad I didn’t.

 

Graphics: 8.5

A lot of care went into making the characters and environments in the classic 16-bit art style. However, there are lot of closeups of character’s faces which stretch the pixels horribly and make it tough to see what emotion is being conveyed.

Gameplay: 9.5

A 2D metriodvania style platformer, that while quite tough, doesn’t feel unfair. The controls are tight and responsive. However, I would recommend using a Pro controller instead the Joy-Cons if possible.

Sound: 10

The sound design is superb. The voice acting is all done by Horace and from his perspective. It’s amazing that a robotic, monotone voice could convey such emotion. The soundtrack is comprised of well known orchestral pieces with some original chiptune melodies.

Fun Factor: 9.5

From the moment you start Horace, it hooks you and doesn’t let go. There are many twists and turns along the way, both narratively and gameplay-wise. Horace game is a must-play.

Final Verdict: 9.5

Horace is available now on PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Horace was provided by the publisher.