Review – Horatio Goes Snowboarding
Sometimes, it takes a brave soul to cleverly put in a message to the world about the state of humanity. Sure, we can come out on the street corners and loudly, angrily decrying the actions of Big Brother and other Big establishments, but those people get disappeared or at least end up getting mocked on TikTok. No, it’s the subversive approach that makes the most traction, the idea that you can hide your thoughts in plain sight and achieve something remarkable in the process. Infinite State Games knew they had to play it cool when it came to taking down the establishments that censure our rights and lock up those who dissent. So, pretending to pay homage to an obscure game from the ZX Spectrum, they launched Horatio Goes Snowboarding and did the impossible: attacked both privatized health care and consumerism in a single, devastating blow.
Horatio Goes Snowboarding is a seemingly endless arcade game about skiing and traffic dodging in the same game. You play Horatio, or at least I think you do: I’ll be honest, it was never really clarified. Horatio has a dream and a thirst for some sick downhill snowboarding, but zero interest in jumps, tricks, or anything beyond a basic slalom approach. However, Horatio is consistently besieged with injuries, which have displaced him to the point of having no home or domicile. Instead, Horatio seems to live at the local hospital, which is six convenient blocks away from the local snow helicopter that brings you to the slopes.
Horatio needs to dodge through multiple lanes of traffic to get to the helicopter, at which point you’ll be dropped off at the top with one of his trademark catchphrases, like “Snowboard or Die” or something else (he has several and I can’t always tell what he’s saying). Horatio must survive trees, rocks and the occasional yeti to get through the flag gates and make it to the end. Then Horatio will be magically teleported back to the top of the mountain to do it all again, but this time a little more difficult, labeling the new run as a new day. Lather, rinse and repeat until you are sick and tired of this game OR, more sinisterly, you run out of money.
On the surface, Horatio Goes Snowboarding appears to be a quick and dirty arcade event that feels more reminiscent of SkiFree than anything else. I mean, a snowboarding game with zero action to it already is a wild choice in today’s day and age (by which I mean any snowboarding game made after the creation of SSX Tricky). There’s no controls to speak of, and the scoring system makes sense, if it is somewhat arbitrary. You get a “grandstanding” bonus for grazing close to a tree on the course but not hitting it. You get bonus points for running over other mountain denizens (who are almost always skiing) and hitting snowmen. The yeti will appear at random but won’t necessarily kill you if you get out of the way fast enough.
Each course is procedurally generated, with a sharp uptick in number of obstacles as you go on, culminating in a madness of day seven. Horatio goes faster and faster, but you can cut down on his speed by strafing on the mountain (though not too much or you’ll get knocked off the screen). If you manage to get all the way to approximately 100,000 points, you’ll unlock endless mode, which is…basically everything that I just mentioned, but without an ending to the day. Seems clean cut, right?
You see, Horatio Goes Snowboarding is cleverly taking stabs at the problems of the industry as a whole. Let’s take the snowboard Horatio rides, for instance. Every time you approach the rack, there are a slew of different colors to choose from. Red, purple, green, etc. Yet Horatio always chooses yellow, and the player doesn’t ever get a chance to decide what color they would like. The only reason for this must be because yellow is the cheapest color snowboard, because there is zero board retention if you need to start a run over.
There is someone who will come and rescue you from the mountain (or from traffic, but more on that later), yet no one will retrieve your brand new snowboard and bring that to your bedside. Curious, isn’t it? It’s almost as if whoever is saving Horatio’s life is purposely setting him up to need to buy a brand new board even if he barely got to use the last one. Horatio, understanding the cycle of single-use snowboards, chooses to get the one that only costs twenty pounds instead of a more colorful (and potentially more expensive) board. Horatio doesn’t like the color yellow: he’s forced to continue using it because it’s the only option that makes sense in his designed existence of consumerism. BAM, Horatio’s going after the planned obsolescence market!
But it doesn’t stop there. Think about how Horatio spawns every game, and the way Horatio Goes Snowboarding sets you up to FAIL before you even begin. You could easily be in a lodge of some kind, or perhaps an apartment, or, hell, you could just pop on top of the mountain without preamble, like most of the skiing games of the era they “supposedly” are paying homage to. But Horatio is “born” in the hospital at the start of each run, and, look at that, he’s automatically faced with needing to dodge a ton of cars just to get to the helicopter.
Does Horatio have an easy way to do this, something simpler and more logical to get to the actual snowboarding part? Absolutely not: he must dodge around other cars (people trapped in a sonderless world of grueling commute), public service vehicles (who are they serving? The people? I doubt it) and even small poles to prevent cars from going on the sidewalk, but, in reality, are making sure you have difficulty getting onto the sidewalk itself while a car bears down on you.
Make it all the way to the helicopter, and you’re rewarded in two different ways. You get to go snowboarding, finally, and you get points. What do points do? Nothing. You could get rewarded with money, but that’s a fool’s wish. You get points, and maybe someday the points will mean something. This means Horatio needs to risk life and limb just to start the game, with no help whatsoever, can actually get a game over without ever snowboarding and his prize is now getting to do what the player bought the game for. Sounds a little bit too much like the rat race we call the early education system, doesn’t it?
But being on the snowboard is the most egregious message within all of Horatio Goes Snowboarding. With little more than a quip that could have been lifted from any extreme sports enthusiast from the 90s, Horatio speeds down the mountain with very little control as to what he’s doing. Successfully getting to the end of the day nets you a bit of a cash prize, but it’s important to note that this is, for your first and second day, approximately fifteen pounds total. Two days worth of work won’t even cover a new board should you fail, and, more importantly, hitting anything (a tree, a rock, a yeti) ends the run and pops you back into the hospital to the tune of ONE HUNDRED POUNDS.
Oh sure, Horatio starts with enough cash in his pocket to respawn a couple of times, but please notice something important. If Horatio survives his day’s run, he doesn’t get sent back to the town. He doesn’t get a moment’s downtime. He is thrust back in front of the hospital, almost mocking the lack of domicile he’s able to afford, and made to go through the same indignities he had before. No matter what his progress, Horatio still scraps for his life in the manner he did when he was nothing. This proves that the society we live in barely rewards winners and punishes the losers in the worst way possible: making them pay for simply being “less than.”
On top of that, the “winners” get the “prize” of getting to work again, going down the hill again, but with an increased difficulty that still rewards very little. If you want to earn enough money for an “extra life,” you need to make it at least to the fifth day, which is an insane ask when the game speeds up enough to the point of blurring and the trees, rocks and that goddamn Yeti really appear out of nowhere. This is the rat race of life: you work your ass off because it’s expected of you, and only by paying money after breaking your back are you allowed to live long enough to do more.
There are other clues throughout. The entire soundtrack of Horatio Goes Snowboarding could have been contemporary hip hop, or classical music, or even ska, but, instead, is clearly 90s inspired breakbeat music. Breakbeat, like Chemical Brothers or Trip Theory, and all music that’s classically found in the societally challenging movie The Matrix, which I don’t think is that much of a reach. Horatio is clearly in a simulation of some kind, where there are expectations beyond his control, rewards that seem to benefit someone other than himself, and the greatest “unlock” of the game is the ability to go down the mountain endlessly, almost like it would be a reward to push a rock up a hill endlessly.
Somewhere between Keanu Reeves and Sysiphus is Horatio, and he truly has a wretched existence that he must deal with and comprehend. Otherwise, how will he understand the sweet release of freedom, which is death, which may or may not come with an afterlife? Worse, what if, like the maligned Greek villain, this IS Horatio’s afterlife?
I went into Horatio Goes Snowboarding with an expectation on where the game would take me, but I never expected a cross between Papers, Please and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Philistines will only see a simple arcade game, but I’ve peeled back the curtain to witness the true message within, and it’s a glorious indictment of the world around us. I see you, Infinite State Games, and I am with you. Let’s all take down the establishment together, one snowboard at a time.
A cute blue mascot with a simple backdrop helps point out the inequality around us.
Repetitive snowboarding with zero button input, much like the lack of control we all face.
Royalty-free breakbeat reminds us all to break free and reject the fake reality before us.
Enlightenment and awakening isn’t meant to be fun, it’s meant to open your goddamn eyes.
Final Verdict: 5.5
Horatio Goes Snowboarding is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Horatio Goes Snowboarding was provided by the publisher.