So, there certainly was a reaction to the newly announced Horn when Jim posted a little clip a few days ago in which the game was shown off and Phosphor Games’ Chip Sineni made some innocent claims about the mobile and tablet spheres becoming the main way people play games.
And he isn’t necessarily wrong. Obviously a lot of gaming enthusiasts would not deign to merely play games on these growing platforms, let alone replace consoles with them, but these sectors are huge. I mean, Infinity Blade is Epic’s most profitable game.
All that silliness and scoffing aside, I was able to play Horn at Zynga Unleashed, as well as talk to the aforementioned Chip Sineni of Phosphor Games, and it’s a pretty neat thing.
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Horn (iPad [previewed], iPhone)
Developer: Phosphor Games Studio
Release: TBA 2012
Horn’s set up isn’t too dissimilar from a host of games that have been released. You wake up as an amnesiac, some bad stuff has gone down, and it’s up to you to fix it. In this instance, you wake up in your village after a thousand of years have passed and things are cursed, which has led to everything being turned into monsters. Of course, this won’t do, so you (Horn) set out to get things back to normal.
Along with you on the journey is the decapitated head of a rock monster who is your reluctant guide that stays strapped to your waist, peppering you with a healthy mix of insults and aid. He could be a pretty cool guy and give the game a nice bit of charm and levity. In addition to this grumbling associate, the general art direction is what stood out to me most about Horn. The run down aesthetic looks less traditional medieval, which I find a bit dull as a setting, and more fantastical. I sort of sensed a dash of ICO and Enslaved, both of which are wonderful games to draw cues from.
Speaking of Enslaved, the most direct parallel I saw to it was the enemy design. The enemies I fought appeared to be golems of sort, yet they were adorned with rusty metal armor, almost making them look like cutesy versions of Enslaved's robots. Their weak, azure, glowing magic underbellies sort of reminded me of electricity, as well. Unnecessary comparisons aside, the game looks pretty cool and is well served by some impressive technical work that make everything really pop on the iPad’s lovely screen.
The bit of the game I played was brief, consisting of a couple of fights and some mild exploration. You move Horn around by touching bits on the floor you want him to move towards and by more contextual movements like swiping left or right to have him jump a gap or up to pull himself up onto a ledge.
Battles will take place against one enemy at a time, with a sort of auto z-lock. When you encounter an enemy, your movement is restricted to a circular path around that enemy. Tapping left or right on the bottom corners of the screen causes Horn to dodge roll left or right in order to either evade enemy attacks (there is also a block button) or reposition himself in front of an enemies weak spot. The sword mechanics are still being tweaked so they were a little less one to one in my hands-on time, but you swipe the screen to slash your enemies appropriately. The first enemy I fought had a weak point hidden in his chest under some armor while the second had a weak point dangling dangerously from his tail, exposed, but required some deft dodge rolling to get into position to hit it.
There are also going to be some giant boss fights -- the end of my demo was teased with the enormous golem from the above trailer waking up like me, most days (begrudgingly). The team doesn’t seem to be limiting itself in scope, though it remains to be seen how far they’ll push the platform. At the very least, they’re promising a “console length” single-player component (citing the more and more commonplace 8-10 hour average).
While I’ve not played Infinity Blade (I barely own a competent computer, let alone a smart phone), the obvious comparison wasn’t lost on me, and so I asked Sineni about what sets their game apart. With Horn, Sineni is promising more puzzles and exploration, allowing you to play the game at your own pace, as opposed to Infinity Blade’s more linear, combat-focused structure. Accordingly, they’re still trying to strike a balance between glowing icons informing you of how to progress and letting the game be somewhat old school and let players wander about.
If you think of Horn as a sort of “baby’s first action/adventure game,” I particularly dig it. As people who have grown up or with or are otherwise familiar with games, we forget that the barrier to entry to some of our favorite titles is sometimes high. Trying to do the whole gaming thing can be daunting for outsiders. Sure, we were largely thrown to the wolves, started without training wheels, or pushed into the deep end and told to sink or swim, but I’m not opposed to letting others get their feet wet in the shallow end a bit, splashing about and enjoying themselves. The game seems pretty sincere.
That being said, if Horn lives up to its billing and promises -- the exploration, puzzle solving, potentially cool little narrative, etc. -- it could also prove a nice, surprisingly deep adventure for even the biggest anti-mobile gaming curmudgeon. Here’s hoping. We don’t have to wait too much longer to find out, as it’ll be releasing “soon.”