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Harold (PC) artwork

Harold (PC) review

"Harold’s blend of racing with puzzle and platform elements makes for a unique experience you won’t get from other titles on the marketplace."

Harold offers an interesting mix of experiences. At its core, the game is about racing, but there's more to it than that. You might just as easily call it an endless runner, or a puzzle game, or even maybe a platformer; it features elements from all of those genres.

In Harold, you play as Gabe, a student at the Guardian Angel school. Gabe is a natural when it comes to guardian angel duties, and he disdains study. The fellow students in the class, especially Seraphial, struggle to keep up with him. For the final exam, which offers the chance to win a scholarship to Archangel Academy, Gabe must protect a runner who is traversing a dangerous obstacle course. A finish in one of the top three positions counts as a win.

Harold (PC) image

Victory won't come easily, however. Gabe is assigned the worst of the runners, a fellow named Harold. He's slow, easily distracted, and prone to accidents. It will take all of your skill to help Gabe help Harold succeed.

You guide Harold indirectly as he advances through a 2D obstacle course alongside AI-controlled racers. You can make Harold jump and "encourage" him to run faster using a lightning bolt, but the rest of your interaction involves manipulating obstacles so that they hinder Harold's opponents while allowing the little guy to progress more easily.

The game's 12 levels are each divided into three stages. First comes the mandatory practice stage. This takes you through the individual sections of the course and allows you to familiarize yourself with the hazards a few at a time. You can find three stars per section to collect in this mode, and you'll want to because doing so unlocks extra angel power for the race.

Next up is the race itself. Here, you need to complete all the sections you passed in practice, this time while attempting to place third or better. You are up against other runners who automatically run faster and better than you do. In order to succeed, you need to use your powers wisely. Angel power serves both as life and boost energy for Harold. You gain more of it by sabotaging other racers, and by collecting power-ups on the course itself. You can also attempt to locate the shortcut in each level in order to jump ahead of your opponents. If you die from hitting an obstacle and don’t have angel power to spare to save Harold, the race ends and you must try again.

Harold (PC) image

The final section in a level is a bonus challenge area, where you have only one life with which to complete the course. Harold runs through the obstacles at top speed and you need to collect stars along the way, which highlights the optimal route through the course.

The challenge mode showcases the true engagement of this game: precision and memorization. Much as in a game like Super Meat Boy, you run a fine line between success and failure. One wrong move will leave you scrambling to stay in the race, or die outright in the challenge mode. Because of this, you would expect the controls to be precise and tight, and for the most part they are. That doesn't mean they're easy to use, however.

Though it feels like an odd choice for a PC-exclusive title, Harold requires a controller for play. This is explained by the need for analog input for some items. I used a Microsoft Xbox 360 controller for Windows as I played, as recommended by the game's Steam page. Though that allows for tight, responsive controls, your brain will take a pounding as you try working through them. The trigger buttons cycle from obstacle to obstacle, and later in the game you are able to move ahead a screen and configure objects to your advantage. Combine that with the variety found among them, and their differing control quirks, and you'll likely find yourself focusing mostly on what button combination you have to press to stay ahead. Moving from one obstacle to the next using the triggers feels clumsy at times, but I’m not sure what alternatives would have accomplished the task more efficiently.

Harold (PC) image

The art style of the game evokes old school 90s Disney cartoons, with vibrant colours and intricate details on everything from the runners to the background itself. It also features that brand of humour, a mixture of slapstick and semi-hackneyed dialogue that you so often find in films of that generation. The game features dynamic music, as well. As you gain ground on your opponents, the score swells and angels sing, quite literally. Fail, and the music falls, waiting for you to get back into the race before surging once more. It's an ideal aesthetic for the game, since playing this rock-hard game with an uglier skin would perhaps feel overly punishing.

Harold’s blend of racing with puzzle and platform elements makes for a unique experience you won’t get from other titles on the marketplace. There's room for improvement, but the game as it stands is still well worth your time.


Pawkeshup's avatar
Freelance review by Pawkeshup D'Amour (June 08, 2015)

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