"Just Another Pretty Face"
"Console-quality” is a phrase thrown about quite often in regards to mobile games. It is usually treated as an ideal, a pedigree to which developers of smart-phone games should aspire. Usually, "console-quality” references a title with excellent production values in graphics and sound. Unfortunately, having the appearance of a blockbuster video game doesn't always equate to the quality of one, and it takes more than a beautiful world to suck in gamers for dozens of hours. Sadly, the game design is where Horn falters, despite its undeniably impressive appearance.
Horn stars a precocious young man of the same name, who lives in a medieval-style fantasy village. When his village is ravaged by a curse that turns everyone else into metal monsters called Pygons, Horn is, of course, the only one who can save the day. But to do so he'll have to traverse menacing dungeons, fight all the Pygons, collect and collect "Pygite” minerals to upgrade his weapon. If this all sounds familiar, that's because Horn's story isn't particularly novel. However, it's a well-told story with excellent voice acting and quite a bit of humor, particularly from the severed Pygon-head Gourd, who reluctantly provides Horn with hints in exchange for getting his body back. The graphics are absolutely superb, and they are easily among the best 3D visuals ever seen on an iOS platform. A rousing soundtrack also helps elevate Horn's formulaic narrative, turning it into an excellent showpiece.
Sadly, this quality doesn't transfer to the gameplay. Horn plays like a mixture of Infinity Blade and the Legend of Zelda, mixing swipe-motion sword-fighting with open-world exploration and puzzle-solving. In theory, this would make for an epic campaign with plenty of great set pieces for levels. In practice, this ends up repetitive and simplistic. The battles against the Pygons control like Infinity Blade's battles, but they lack the elaborate series of slashes, parries, and blocks, instead going for merely dodging and swiping until you hit the painfully conspicuous weak point. The overworld offers a more ambitious experience, but controlling Horn means little more than tapping where you want him to go, and hoping that he actually goes there. Mapping both movement and full camera control to the same screen forces the player to fight the interface almost as often as they fight the enemy.
It's a shame that Horn couldn't have been a better game, because if it were anywhere near as fun as its obvious inspirations, it would've been the kind of title people think of when they call a mobile game "console-quality”. Of course, the problem lies therein, because an iOS device is not a console. The devices are not meant for the same type of play as a home entertainment system connected to a television, and a touch-screen isn't a substitute for physical controls. Perhaps instead mobile developers should try to focus on the best kinds of experiences they can get from iOS devices' individual strengths. An approach like that would've given Horn a good game to go with its great presentation, instead of a mediocre one.
GameDynamo's Score for Horn (Mobile)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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