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Over Horizon (NES) artwork

Over Horizon (NES) review

"The next level drops you into an icy cavern where you'll find yourself shooting blocks to temporarily move them out of the way so that you can slip through the gaps before the ice returns to its original position. When you get used to doing that, you'll confront small machines capable of also moving the blocks — except they kick the dang things right into you, which keeps you on your toes."

To say that I found Over Horizon to be a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. Going in, my expectations were not particularly high for a number of reasons.

Because Over Horizon was released in 1991, Nintendo of America was more concerned with the new Super Nintendo hardware than it was with the older NES, meaning that the game never reached the United States even though it was ported to Europe. There's next to no information about the title on Wikipedia, either, other than a note that describes it as a shooter consisting of six stages. When a person looks up publisher Hot-B, the main thing he finds is that the company was best known for pushing out bass fishing games. That sort of experience is a far cry from the pulse-pounding intensity offered by a truly great shooter. And when you start playing, you won’t take long to realize that all you’re really getting in Over Horizon is a clone of games such as R-Type and Gradius.

There's really only one thing working in favor of this unassuming cartridge: Hot-B stepped up to the plate, swung the bat and drove the ball out of the park with a game-winning home run! This game is seriously good, and it's a disappointment to find that it managed to sail this far under the radar. Based on its merits, Over Horizon should easily have been considered one of the top NES shooters. It should have spawned a horde of sequels, not struggled and failed to find a publisher in all regions.

The game’s big moment of originality comes right at the start, when you customize your ship. You can dump points into the strength of your weaponry and determine where your options are positioned around the main ship. By default, they'll appear right next to it after you collect them, giving you a concentrated stream of fire. However, you can instead choose to place them further away in order to cover more of the screen with bullets, lasers and whatever else you feel like blasting enemies with.

After that work is done (or not, since ship editing is entirely optional), the game itself commences. It's a slow-paced trek where the emphasis often is on how enemies are situated in hard-to-reach locations, requiring you to dodge their attacks until you find yourself in a position from which you can safely blast them. Helping you out is the ability to fire forward and backward at all times. One button fires to the right and the other to the left. Considering how frequently enemies come up behind you, this was a necessary addition. Weapons also can be powered up. When I grabbed an "L" icon, my ship and its two options could emit thin lasers. After I acquired a couple more of those icons, the beams grew a lot thicker and dealt more damage, which proved helpful as the action grew fiercer.

The neat little moments I found scattered throughout the six levels also added to my enjoyment, as they prevented the game from ever feeling overly derivative. In the second stage's factory, you'll have to shoot switches to open gates in order to progress. The next level drops you into an icy cavern where you'll find yourself shooting blocks to temporarily move them out of the way so that you can slip through the gaps before the ice returns to its original position. When you get used to doing that, you'll confront small machines capable of also moving the blocks -- except they kick the dang things right into you, which keeps you on your toes.

Later in the game, you'll find yourself forced to fly beneath small waterfalls that push you downward, making it a bit tougher to evade enemy fire. Then the final stage starts out like the typical space shooter battleship level, with you flying over a gigantic structure while blasting all sorts of guns, but things change quickly when the teleporters come into play. You'll fly into one and find yourself transported to a series of rooms inside the ship, then venture back outside before finally returning to the ship’s interior to face the final boss. The only thing marring what nearly was a perfect conclusion was the game's one trick teleporter; one area near the end gives you a choice of two teleporters. Pickign the wrong one sends you back to the beginning of the final outside section. That’s not cool, Hot-B. That’s not cool at all…

But seriously, minor complaints like that are the worst that I can leverage against Over Horizon. You know what another "complaint" of mine is? In the fourth stage, which is where I found this game to most resemble Gradius, you'll find yourself in a sandy cavern loaded with mountains and boulders that fall all over the screen. About halfway through the stage, these rocks start opening to reveal laser-shooting guns. With a lot of these things on the screen, I noticed a bit of flicker. Oh, the humanity! Like I said, complaints amount to small potatoes, the sort of thing that is easily canceled out by the game's large and often tense boss fights. A couple of those really can test your skill, as you'll have to trap your ship in a small, enclosed area between segments of the boss in order to cause damage and that gives you very little room for error as you dodge their attacks. A few such creatures can only be assaulted at certain times, when they let their guard down. Battles can stretch out a bit longer than they should, which can lend the game a tiny and annoying element of fake difficulty.

But whatever…

The more I try to talk about negatives in Over Horizon, the more I feel like I'm going out of my way to nitpick. If I keep it up, I’ll be left complaining about your ship’s color scheme before you know it. This truly is an unheralded gem in the NES's library, one that starts with limited ship customization and follows that up with six diverse and challenging stages that I had a blast playing through. My adolescent self may call my next words blasphemous, but I think I might have finally found an 8-bit shooter that I like even more than Life Force


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 20, 2013)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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