Indie Quickie: Harold

It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

Harold_1

What is it? A platform runner in which you play the role of a guardian angel training to learn how to protect mortals by helping them win obstacle course races. Remember the Murfy levels from Rayman Legends? The gameplay is similar, only fleshed out to be more challenging and complex.

Who made it and where can you get it? Your dean at the Guardian School is Moon Spider Studio, hailing from sunny Florida. Standard enrollment is $19.99 on Steam, but until February 19th you can sign up to help Harold for $14.99.

How much did we play? Two hours, which was enough time to dash through 7 of 14 levels. I haven’t been able to finish any higher than second place in a race yet, but so far I have earned 100% gold stars in all practice runs.

Any technical concerns, hardware requirements or other details you should know about? Harold is a Windows PC game, but a gamepad is required to play as the gameplay is built almost solely around analog stick actions that probably would have been tough to map to mouse and keyboard. Another thing to note is the limited resolution options. The only choices are 1366 x 768, 1280 x 720, or 1920 x 1080, which are fine, but it would be nice to have some in between settings. (I can put it to 1080 on my HD TV secondary display, but the max my regular PC monitor can do is 1680 x 1050, which there isn’t a setting for.)

We all know not to eat the yellow snow, but Harold teaches us not to step in it either.

We all know not to eat the yellow snow, but Harold teaches us not to step in it either.

Why should you play it?

    • Run, Harold, Run: Harold blends together elements of platformers and runners for a whimsical racer quite unlike any other game out there. The twist here is that, except for jumping, Harold moves forward on his own and does not stop for anything, so you have only indirect control over how he reaches the finish line. As Gabe, the top student of his guardian angel class, you use heavenly powers of divine intervention to help the dopey klutz — all the other students drew guardianship over buff athletes, so the deck is stacked against you from the opening gun — by manipulating the almost Goldbergian sequence of contraptions that make up each obstacle course. Each level begins with a practice run which breaks down the forthcoming race into a series of small challenge zones, giving you the chance to prepare for and potentially earn a bonus for the race ahead. Once the practice run is complete, the full race, in which you must propel Harold into at least third place in order to unlock the next race locale, becomes available. After that, you can attempt to complete the race at a nonstop sprint, with only a single life, while also trying to collect all the blue stars in a challenge mode run. (Challenge races are very hard.)

    • Analog Stick Aerobics: Given the gamepad requirement, it probably goes without saying that you’ll need a nimble analog stick finger as well as some quick reflexes and foresight to get very far in this game. When not tapping a face button to tell the eponymous track “star” to jump, you’ll be flicking and cranking that left stick every which direction to slide, raise or lower platforms over bottomless pits, pound through wooden walls, and crank drawbridges up or down. Guardian angels are permitted to play a little dirty when it comes to aiding their mortal subjects, so you’ll also need to flick that stick to thwart the advances of Harold’s opposition by sliding platforms out from under them, cutting swinging ropes, or angering hungry alligators with a hammer blow to the head so they snack on the next runner that tries to vault over their gaping maws. Simultaneously shifting obstacles to help Harold while hindering the other runners requires a lot of finesse as well as some trial and error as it will take multiple runs to figure out not only the best way to use the environment to your advantage, but also to discover alternate routes or, better yet, each race’s secret shortcut. The level design is top notch.

    • Puff This: Puff Power efficiency is integral to success, and the mechanic’s implementation is quite clever. During a race, collecting Wingrings (golden halos with angel wings) or causing grief to other sprinters adds to your Puff Power allotment. Using a Puff Power calls a bolt of lightning down from the heavens to “encourage” Harold into a flaming-feet turbo boost for a short duration. But you have to be careful about when and how often you use them, because Puff Powers also serve as your life pool. As long as a Puff Power is stocked, Harold will be returned to the track to continue racing should you fail in your duties as a guardian angel. However, if you run out, any pitfall Harold falls into will result in a game over and an automatic race restart. Poor Harold.

    • Cartoon Charm: Artistically, Harold is one of the more impressive indie productions around, sporting a 2D style that is just about on par with the splendor of the modern Rayman games and has all the charm and slapstick humor of a classic Saturday morning cartoon or pre-CGI Disney animation. It’s the little details that really make the visuals pop, like how Harold’s feet spin and kick up dust/flame trails, Road Runner style, when he gets a Puff-boost, or how he splats into a wall flat as a pancake like Wile E. Coyote. It doesn’t really come across in screenshots or even the trailer, but the backdrops of dense, layered jungle vegetation, rolling deserts, and crashing waves animate beautifully and have an eye-popping sense of depth. Of course, the best nuggets are hidden away in the form of fully animated cutscenes which play out when you find one of the shortcuts, all of which seem to involve Harold enduring a whole lot of pain like poor Scrat chasing his prized acorn in the Ice Age movies. So far I’ve seen yetis tote and toss Harold’s frozen body around like a football, mermaids and dolphins spike him to and fro like a volleyball, and a magic carpet whisk him away on a perilous flight. I totally see myself replaying all the levels just to find these shortcut animations. (On a side note, it’d sure be nice to have a gallery to re-watch these animations after they have been discovered.)

Parting Thoughts: Approximately halfway through, Harold has proven to be a fun and unique mix of platforming acrobatics, runner hand-eye coordination, and quick thinking, topped off with a big ol’ dollop of Disney whimsy. It’s also a deceptively difficult game that demands a strong stick-to-itiveness to master the timing and layout of each course. Finishing in third place to qualify for the next race doesn’t put up too much resistance, but certainly is no gimme either. Even when finding a secret shortcut you aren’t guaranteed a top finish. Hell, I’ve found shortcuts on three races and still haven’t finished better than second place. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve even caught a glimpse of the first-place runner. Thankfully crossing the finish line first is not a requirement for progress, so overall I would definitely say the level of difficulty is fair and accessible to anyone who has an existing comfort level making quick analog stick movements. The challenge of replaying to go for first place honors, on top of shaving time off the clock to move up the leaderboard ranks, should only serve to bolster the sense of accomplishment for endgame play.

Disclosure: A free Steam key for Harold was provided to VGBlogger.com by the game’s developer.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!