Reviewed on PC
Developed by Paul Helman and published by 505 Games, Horace is described by the developer as "a story driven, pixel platform adventure game." What does that mean you ask? Think of an SNES-era platformer mixed with an honest, gripping storyline, and even that does not do this game justice.
Horace is a charming, heartfelt title. The story progresses between bits of platforming through the use of 16-bit cut-scenes narrated by Horace himself. Booting up for the first time in an enormous home, Horace is met with both his human family and the task of learning how to...robot. When not sure what his purpose was, the Old Man (father figure) of the family tasks Horace with cleaning one-million items. Without spoiling too much of the story, it reminded me at times of Bicentennial Man, at times of Wall-E, all wrapped up with a nice little conspiracy bow on top.
Rather than being a standard "run-jump-collect" sort of platformer (OK, so there is a lot of running, jumping, and collecting also), Horace seamlessly integrates enough variety into the gaming elements to keep the player on their toes and entertained. The standard platforming tropes are elevated through the introduction of anti-gravity elements to an almost puzzle-like degree at times. Initially this caused a bit of frustration when trying to jump but ending up upside down instead, though it quickly becomes second nature without much fuss.
Additionally, Horace is interspersed with non-platforming components in the form of mini-games. Some of these mini-games are directly integrated into the game related to what is going on, such as a rudimentary Guitar Hero-style interlude when joining in on band practice or a mini racer when, well, racing between locations at one point. Other mini-games are setup more as a break from the stresses of platforming though not directly tied into the story. For example, at one point in the game you stumble upon an area with various odd jobs to complete to earn money. While not necessary for the story to progress necessarily, earning money is needed for purchasing upgrades (new software) for Horace, as well as train tickets. Thankfully, these odd jobs are enjoyable and challenging enough that I never felt like I was trudging through them. I even found myself replaying some of them for the sole purpose of trying to better my score, which seems to have no impact on the larger game at all!
In addition to these odd jobs, there is also an arcade you can enjoy with some of that hard-earned cash. I will admit that I spent an absurd amount of time playing the job games and arcade games and had to wrench myself away to continue progressing in the story. Nostalgia abounds in these games for sure. Ranging from an Out Run game featuring the characters from Ferris Bueller's Day Off to drying dishes to help the Golden Girls run a restaurant, the amount of charm that the whole game possesses certainly spread to these pleasant side tasks in a perfect way.
While I typically do not focus extensively on the soundtrack when playing a platformer, it would have been a shame to not acknowledge it in the case of Horace. The developers did a superb job of matching the songs and sounds of the game to the context in which they occur. The songs themselves were able to achieve a sense of nostalgia both through the excellent 16-bit renditions and the recognizable songs themselves.
Of course, the auditory shining star was by far the voice of Horace himself. Granted, the voice was appropriately robotic and monotone, but something about the narration just seemed to engage me and make me root for Horace even more than before.
The only real fly in the ointment is there are a number of technical issues that take the shine off the game. There were multiple instances where, particularly in tighter spaces or areas where a lot was going on, my character became stuck outside of the level/walls in what was obviously an unintended situation. I was able to still hear all of my robot-esque sounds and could see the camera pan to follow me, though due to being outside the bounds of the map I was unable to actually continue.
Thankfully, with very few exceptions, the Lazarus mechanic was able to get things going for me again by either jumping a bunch until I ended up flying into space and dying, or in one instance by finding a spot out of bounds where a hazard reached and took things into my own, shiny gloved hands.
Of bigger concern, however, was the potentially game-ending glitch I experienced later in the game. Without spoiling too much, at a point in the game when getting on a train to go back to the main land, rather than transitioning as it should the game instead just slowly decreased the sprite for my character, and then nothing else happened. I was left looking at a tiny Horace while the music played in the background. Sadly, this did not correct itself when I exited the game and re-entered. As far as what triggered this glitch, I am unsure as the process had worked correctly previously. Unfortunately, this resulted in my having to abandon the save after having put in over four hours of game-play and start the game over.