PAX: Harold ran right over my heart

Harold is 2D platform and race game where the player controls the environment, not the character. You are a straight-A student in a guardian angel school. A lazy bully, you’ve never had to work hard.

But when your final exam is to watch over runners in a race, performing miracles to save the racers from mishaps along a series of highly dangerous paths, your success is suddenly in doubt. Your runner is the hapless protagonist Harold and it’s your responsibility to help him win. Unfortunately for you, Harold is clumsy, awkward, and effectively blind.

Harold just dumbly runs forward, unable to see what’s in front of him through his Coke bottle lenses, and he’s not under your direct control. As his guardian angel, there are only two direct means of interacting with him. You can zap him lightly, which makes Harold jump. If Harold collects two halos (collectible power-up icons), he can be sent charging forward at a higher rate of speed for a short time, giving him greater distance in jumping and closing distance between opponents.

You’ll spend most of your effort in manipulating environmental objects to create a safe path for Harold through the race, moving platforms, raising and lowering bridges, and clearing obstructions. The controls for manipulating environmental objects are simple. Objects are pushed, bashed, and cranked using the left thumbstick and the game will tell you what kind of action is required with symbols of hammers, battering rams, and gears. Many situations feature multiple objects, which are switched between with the press of a trigger. Some objects can have their functions turn to serve Harold better, such as using rope snares to fling him far ahead.

While you’re focused on Harold’s success, however, other guardian angels have a stake in this race too, protecting their own runners. In order to give Harold a further advantage, you can use the same environmental objects to slow down the other people in the race. As a guardian angel, you have the ability to warp ahead in the race to the next obstacle in advance of Harold’s arrival, allowing you to set things up for him and, just maybe, delay another racer ahead of him with an untimely death.

If it sounds difficult, then you’re getting the right idea. It’s challenging enough just to get Harold through the race in one piece, but the timing and foreknowledge necessary to really excel requires that you take every opportunity to to shorten Harold’s path and simultaneously slow the others. Figuring out the best route will be a challenge in its own right, with each track offering several opportunities to open paths which may have easier obstacles or even a hidden shortcut to give a huge advantage.

Harold features a rather stunning visual presentation and a lot of charm. Developer Moon Spider had a unique advantage based on their location in Florida, as the movement of the Disney animation studios from Orlando to Burbank left a huge pool of talent behind. This allowed them to hire experienced animators who’ve worked with PIXAR, Bluth Animation, Studio GHIBLI, and more. What results is a combination of 2D and 3D elements combining in such a manner that you’d never know it wasn’t all done by hand. It wasn’t until the framerate of the game was forcibly slowed to about three frames/sec before I could distinguish between the two types of objects as, in play, it’s pretty much impossible.

It’s one of the most interesting games I’ve seen at PAX this year and a little bit intimidating at the same time. The whole visual look feels like a Tex Avery cartoon, but don’t let the bright colors and comic timing fool you; this game is going to be really challenging. I also expect it will be a lot of fun, provided you’re into level memory exercises and very tight timing.

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Conrad Zimmerman
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