Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe
Strictly speaking, I get frustrated very quickly with reaction games, nimble controller gymnastics and pin-point plat-forming. I never finished Limbo or Super Meat Boy, despite loving them, for this reason. Hell, I think the only platformer I ever finished was Super Mario 2 on the Game Boy. Harold occupies a space somewhere in this ball-park of controller flinging angst, but manages to calm me down enough to enjoy the experience.
It goes like this: you play a guardian angel proving thine worth at a sort of Elysian polytechnic. You demonstrate your guardian abilities by guiding a runner who is competing on courses full of traps and devices. Strictly controller managed, you flick between platforms, moving them into the appropriate position, bash down barricades, knock out creatures and cut ropes that opponents are swinging on, to name a few. The obstacles are varied, but follow a sort of modular set-up in well planned tracks that take an unexpectedly leisurely pace. Upon booting up the game I was waiting for relentless twitch reactions and seizure inducing speed, but most of the time you are guiding Harold (the hapless runner) over one event at a time. The balance between preparation and execution of movements is pretty spot-on. Harold has to traverse a pit, you have to nudge him to jump. Fair enough. The next screen will slide in and you have a more complex track to traverse. The races scale nicely, adding in new vocabulary of traps and events.
The slower pace not only allows the core mechanics to really shine, but gives you much more time to enjoy the stunning aesthetics. Being a spawn of a certain era, I was raised on John Kricfalusi's joyfully demented Ren & Stimpy, but concurrently, a certain era of cartoon style ranging from Disney's Aladdin in 1992 to Dreamwork's The Road To El Dorado in 2000. The in-game backgrounds, characters and atmospheric effects feel like a blend of this era of cartoons. And I adore it. So much love and care has been put into the presentation of this game, I simply cannot fault it in it's current state. It seems almost churlish to say “could do with a bit more background movement” as if more studios put this much attention into their design, the world of gaming would be a much richer place. Kudos to the developers.
Where the presentation is a blend, the gameplay itself feels like a joyful mixture. Through the quite solid and simple premise, I get hints of Ignition (the spunky top-down racer), Abe's Oddysee and, eternally praised, Micro Machines. The 'god' element is a reasonably familiar trope in games, but it's nice to see it implemented in a way that means I don't possess someone to tear body parts away. There is a gentleness and an intrinsic joy to Harold that has largely won me over, despite it really not being a game-type that I would go for.
I do have one big irk though at this point, but would hope to see this ironed out somewhat on it's full release, is the excessive loading times. I enjoy the cut-scenes, but after having one before practising new actions, then the load for the tutorials, then another cut-scene and then a load for the race, I was just gagging to play the damn thing. The races themselves are fun and engaging, but I wanted to play much more quickly than I was being allowed. Sadly, this would stop me from clocking in more time on Harold if this is still the situation on release, and would be a real shame if it put people off.
Harold is an all-round, totally solid game, with exceptional presentation, sound (gosh darn the music is superb) and core gameplay. Just get me to the gameplay, Moon Spider, 'cos what you got is gorgeous.