Horn has launched in Google Play and the Nvidia Tegra Zone today, offering a blend of 3D combat and platforming action in a very nicely-rendered package. The game’s story takes you through the quest of a young blacksmith that wakes up one day to find his world is in ruin and populated by large, grouchy golems. By sheer happenstance, the boy discovers these golems are actually people under a curse, and takes it upon himself to restore his friends and family to their original state and ultimately bring the world back to normal.
Graphics and audio
Horn’s in-game graphics are really excellent. There’s a wide variety of lighting effects, the textures are rich, and the models are detailed. Fog effects add a great sense of distance, Animation is generally great, there were a few stutters in framerate when playing on the Nexus 7, but your mileage may vary.
Some of the user interface elements felt a little low-fidelity in comparison to the rich 3D graphics and lighting. For example, the font used for subtitles seemed a little sharp and bare-bones, almost as if it was out of Windows 95. Besides that, icons didn’t seem as sharp as they could have been. Still, the UI is amply responsive and has a lot of nice transition animations.
Although the dialog is a little on the Disney side, the voice acting is high quality, and the storyline is amply compelling. Excellent cinematic sequences and the occasional storyboard-style narration are peppered throughout gameplay, and the setting’s back-story is further fleshed out by journal pages found throughout the world.
The music deserves particular praise, as it sets a great mood for the gritty fantasy landscape. Small bouts of classical music kick in on a contextual basis, be it after activating a switch or entering a new area. Ambient sound effects, such as the gurgling of a waterfall, fade in and out appropriate to the camera’s distance to it. The sound of footsteps are accompanied by the light jingle of Horn’s equipment.
Gameplay and controls
Though Horn borrows a fair bit from Infinity Blade’s swipe-based, one-on-one melee combat schtick, it feels less precise and tactical. The only real option you have besides hacking away at an enemy as dodging to the left and right. There are also pyboom bombs that can stun your enemies for a short period of time, and some special attacks require you to react with a leap, but for the most part, you’re just trying to hack open a weak point and keep swiping at it. A blocking and combo mechanism would serve well to add a bit of challenge. Maybe a gesture-based special move system, so long as they’re getting inspiration from Infinity Blade. Individual encounters are scored based on damage dealt, armor broken, damage dealt to a Pygon’s weak point, how long it takes to finish a fight, and how much damage you take.
Since Horn is a smith (or at least an apprentice) there’s an extensive upgrading system in place. Every upgrade can increase one stat that a weapon offers bonuses to, be it damage, health, critical hit chance, or extra elemental damage. There are a wide variety of weapons, including swords, hammers, axes, and polearms, in addition to amulets and vanity costumes.
Through gameplay, players discover blueprints to new weapons, but even the ones currently owned can be upgraded using the Pygite crystals scattered throughout levels and awarded from defeating bosses. There are also Pygite cores which are more rare, but also required to upgrade or forge new equipment. Of course, this game is published by Zynga, so you can stock up on both Pygite and cores through in-app purchases.
I had a mixed experience with the controls. I’m glad to see that these guys are trying to ditch the virtual joystick in favor of a more finger-friendly tap-to-move set-up, but it can often lead you to activating items you didn’t mean to. The most exciting parts about navigating levels usually involves reacting to environmental effects, such as tapping the screen in time to grab a ledge at the end of a jump, then swiping to clamber up; even that much gets predictable quickly. In the midst of combat, it can be easy to accidentally tap virtual buttons along the bottom of the screen, though I see that more of an Android issue that affects many games equally.
I found a lot of the stages fairly railroaded; your path is generally made pretty obvious, which is a good way to avoid player frustration, but feels perhaps a bit too linear. Throughout the game, Horn learns songs to play on his, err, horn, which is a page taken right out of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but doesn’t add much to gameplay - you don’t even have to memorize which notes to hit in order to successfully play a song, just step up to the designated pedestals.
- Strong, compelling story
- Excellent graphics and setting
- Fairly linear gameplay
Even if Horn amounts to little more than Ico meets Infinity Blade, there’s nothing quite like it available on Android today. The graphics are excellent, the story is compelling, and though the gameplay is a little linear, it makes for smooth progress and easy access to new eye candy. In-app purchases may be a turn-off for many (especially after paying $6.99), but I found them generally unobtrusive.