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A genuinely heartwarming indie platformer about a hat-wearing robot who longs to become a real boy.

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There have been a lot of platformers that try their hand at some incredible stories. Some touch on tropes that’ve been heavily established over time (Saving Bandage Girl in Super Meat Boy) while others try injecting more personal stories (mountain climbing while dealing with anxieties and depression in Celeste).  But it’s rare that a game’s story, in a 2D platformer much less, can make you develop such an intense and nurturing attachment to its main character – let alone a robot.

Meet Horace, the hat-wearing robot with an intense love and naivety toward those around him. Despite clearly being a robot in every possible way, I couldn’t help but form an instantaneous bond with him (?) and wanted nothing more than for him to be happy. I’m certain you’ll feel the same way.

In one of the most well-developed and overproduced stories I’ve played all year, Horace starts off by being booted up and becoming a part of a family. His creator and father set him up to be an amazing new invention and begins instructing the newborn robot all the ways of being a good person. These serve as introductory tutorial sessions and help set the tone for what’s in store for our lovable metallic hero.

Things take a turn for the worse after Horace discovers his beloved father/creator has passed away in one of the most gut-wrenching and honest depictions of life and loss I’ve seen in a game – let alone one about an English text-to-speech speaking robot. The entirety of the game’s voice acting and dialogue is handled solely via Horace’s text-to-speech internal monologue, so it’s a surprise at how earnest and touching the story and character development is.

From that point on the game goes into some interestingly dark and sometimes uplifting directions that feel more genuine than most games I’ve played recently. While Horace is fundamentally a pixelated indie platformer, these sections are periodically broken up with a slew of minigames that “recall” other games like Pong and Guitar Hero, to name a few. Hardcore gamers will surely recognize the most obvious inspirations here, all rendered in the game’s colorful and expressive pixel style. Rather than just nostalgia grabs, however, these moments feel like genuine extensions of the game’s sincere nature

And boy, what a package it is. Interestingly, Horace requires a whopping 10GB installation on PC, which is huge for a pixel platformer with a simplistic design and, as mentioned above, with speech entirely generated on-the-fly. I’m at a complete loss as to why this game’s footprint is so large, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it. There’s a good 22 or so chapters to navigate this robot through, meaning there’s tons of Horace to go around and rarely feels stale because of its smart design.

At its core, the game is your typical tough as nails (or in this case, bolts) platformer that quickly ratchets up the difficulty just to dip right back down. However, it’s the type of game where even losing always feels like it’s your fault – that maybe paying attention and having a little patience will be the keys to victory. Rapid respawn times make it feels like you’re chipping away at the tough bits, even if checkpoint placement can be hit or miss.

The level design focuses strongly on Horace’s gravity defying boots that attach you to walls and ceilings. It’s often disorienting to have everything constantly flip, spin and turn on its axis especially when speed is a factor in making your way through levels.

Instead of coins and your normal fare, Horace collects junk. Before passing, Horace’s creator explained that, in true Pinnochio fashion, collecting enough junk will let him turn into a real boy. He does this by simply walking past heaps of garbage, derelict cars, broken bikes, etc., absorbing them and cleaning up the environment in the process; it’s a win-win for everyone. Only doing so isn’t instant as certain items take longer to absorb than others, which can break up the forward momentum at times.

This micromanaging never detracts from the overall fun and does encourage a type of desire to pick up everything, especially for compulsive players. It can feel like a chore, but maybe that’s the point?

Not much about Horace’s unexpectedly large campaign is particularly groundbreaking in terms of gameplay, but it’s one bursting with heart and soul throughout. What shines brightest is the main character himself; Horace is mesmerizingly genuine and this feeling is instantly infectious, even when the game itself becomes slightly repetitive. Yes, the difficulty spikes may be too much for some to endure, but here is a game with a presentation and earnestness so buoyant and full of life that those players willing to stick it out will find an unforgettable ride.

About the Author: James McKeever