Harold is the debut title from Florida’s own Moonspider Studio. A singleplayer side-scrolling platform race-em-up you play Gabe, a guardian angel tasked with protecting the titular Harold as he races across a host of crazy and surprisingly dangerous courses. Gabe controls the various obstacles on each course, using his angelic powers, plotting a safe route for Harold while tripping up his competitors; he also has the power to ‘encourage’ Harold with some lightening to get him moving. Who knew angles were so mean?!?
Before we get into it too much, let’s take a look at some of the beautiful animation first hand:
So now you’ve seen it in action, we can talk about it. I mean, how pretty is Harold?
Moon Spider say in their official PR fluff they are focused on a “high quality, hand-drawn style of classic animated films” and that certainly comes across. The cut-scenes wouldn’t be out of place on Saturday morning TV and the game is just as pretty, not that you’ll have much chance to enjoy the view; if you want to get Harold to the top, it’s going to take all your focus.
The gameplay is, to put it mildly, frenetic. If you want to win you’ll need to keep Harold boosted pretty much 100% using your magic lightning puff powers. There are rings dotted around the course to keep you topped up, but that isn’t enough; slide a platform out from under the oppo and you’ll be rewarded with a bonus ring. Each puzzle becomes a balancing act of making a safe path for the bumbling Harold while desperately sabotaging the other runners so you can keep zapping Harold.
You’ll need to keep a close eye on those puff powers, though, some obstacles are impossible if he isn’t sprinting and if you mess up when you’re out of them and send Harold tumbling, you’re out of the race. It gets a bit Super Meat Boy at times with multiple attempts a necessity and muscle memory your friend. Some of the obstacles are pretty damn complex so you’ll need to be at your most dexterous to survive.
Before you get to the race, however, you’ll have to go through each of the obstacles in practice mode. This is great for learning the ropes the first time around, but it does take some of the mystery out of the race with each obstacle accounted for and passed before the race even begins. Complete a race and you’ll unlock challenge mode where you’ll need to pass the course whilst collecting a bunch of stars, easier said than done believe me.
Like all the challenges in Harold, when you finally get it, it’s a great feeling but before that you’ll want to hurl your pad through the wall more than once. I do have to question the logic of allowing you to lose the race after failing an obstacle without a spare puff power, this is far from an easy game and it swings more towards frustration than fun at times when you die close to the end of a race. Also, while easy on the eye, some of the animations make it difficult to know exactly when to jump. A few times early on, I jumped too late and tumbled to my demise.
While the basics of the game stay the same throughout, move a platform here, cut a rope there, the game keeps it fresh by adding new obstacles and changing how some work slightly. For instance, sometimes moving one platform left will also move another up, down, or right; which is easy in practice, but in the race it does feel like spinning plates. This really tests your dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
There’s also a hidden shortcut in each race to help you get ahead, but most of them are very well hidden, I only found one by racing normally, the other involved a LOT of dying to uncover. Find a shortcut and you’ll not only leap ahead, but you’re also rewarded with a cool cut-scene.
The sound in Harold is also worth a mention, created by a 30 person choir. Despite multiple restarts, it never feels repetitive. The sound reacts to the game too, with the choir gasping if Harold takes a tumble and swelling when you win or overtake another racer.
Great graphics and sound, complete with super rewarding twitch gameplay, Harold is undoubtedly a strong first offering from those fine folks over at Moon Spider Studio. The one thing that, from my point of view, was glaringly missing was multiplayer. It might take some major tweaking to the foundations of the game, but it would be great to swipe a platform out from under a chum and watch him tumble to oblivion; the Wii U GamePad would be perfect for this.
The Good Stuff
- Beautiful graphics.
- Rewarding gameplay.
The Bad Stuff
- Super frustrating at times.
- No multiplayer.
Harold is a beautiful game, full of personality. Fans of games like Super Meat Boy could easily fall in love with this offering. If you’re a a fan of twitch gameplay, have the nimblest of nimble fingers and are looking for a challenge, there’s a lot to keep you entertained here. If you’re easily frustrated or have anger issues, it might be worth giving this one a miss before you smash something valuable…