By: Casey Curran
When reading this review, you must move your eyes from left to right. Once a group of letters is interrupted with a space, which means that a word has just ended and a new one will begin with the next letter. Okay, with that out of the way, we can talk about Harold. Harold has you play as a guardian angel helping a runner in a race against other angels as part of their exams — now if only this game had its own guardian angel.
The “Controls” section explains how well the game responds to the player pressing buttons and tilting the analog sticks on the controller. Some games may feel very responsive while others have delayed responses or demand awkward inputs. Harold controls with a controller exclusively, where each and every one of the controls are context sensitive depending on where the main character Harold is in the race.
These inputs can range from jumping to turning wheels to destroying barriers. Ones that require a simple flick of the analog stick are fairly responsive and work well. However, the ones that require the player to rotate the analog stick only seem to work with slow, precise movements. This ends up clashing horribly with the fast-paced nature of the game, making those sections frustrating and based too much on luck.
This section of the review explains how the game looks and sounds. Some games achieve great visuals through showing off the power of the hardware while others have an inspired visual style that also works well. Harold has neither of these. Its graphics end up looking like a cheap flash show from 10 years ago, with awkward animations. It does use colors well, but the character models are run-of-the-mill cartoony visuals whose only distinction is how cheap they look.
Meanwhile, sound effects are based around the idea of throwing in as many annoying noises as possible hoping it will be funny. Any of the memorable character voices are only that way because of how annoying they are. Music does not achieve the same level of annoyance, but it’s nothing memorable, either.
Gameplay covers how well a video game’s mechanics work. For most games, this describes how fun a game is and if the game is story heavy, how well the narrative works and meshes with the gameplay. The more complex the game, the more that can usually go wrong. Harold is a simple game, but quite a bit goes wrong nonetheless.
The structure is by far the biggest flaw of the game. Harold’s levels are each a different race where you need to help Harold finish first. You do so by removing obstacles in his path, sabotaging other racers and striking Harold with lightning so he temporarily runs faster. Before you can race, however, you must practice. After completing the race, you get a challenge mode where you go through the whole race alone trying to collect hundreds of stars along the way.
Harold’s screens do not scroll, rather a new one pops up once he reaches the edge of the last one. The practice stages demand you go through each one individually, with three collectables per screen. This, however, is weaker than the races and would work better as a mode after the race. In theory, I get why the developers chose this: to familiarize you with the game’s area to prepare for the race.
In practice, however, it only made me bored with the areas of the race. I would still need to continuously repeat sections of the actual race to compensate for the addition of other runners. Sabotaging them is a crucial element of the game as it gives you fuel for the lightning while also slowing them down. However, this requires lightning fast reflexes even if you know what you’re doing, requiring you to repeat these races.
Practice mode could have been fun on its own, but thanks to an annoying progression system, I just wanted to get it over with. Getting to the next area is not the automatic choice, repeating the area is that choice. This may sound like a nitpick, but with how annoying it is to accidentally repeat a section, how many screens exist in a map and how much it hurts the flow of the game, this ends up being a really aggravating design choice.
Races still have their share of flaws as well. Aside from the aforementioned control issues, switching between what you can manipulate often does not work. It’s easy to lose track of which obstacle you have selected and strangely enough, the game automatically picks what mechanism to use regardless of whether or not you went on the alternate path in the race. It makes things feel way more confusing than it should be.
Going on these alternate paths also presents its own share of issues as the game will have the area of the level get in the way of seeing where Harold is on the alternate paths. This is fine when he’s just running, but when they’re ensuring you can’t see where the platform you need to move is, that’s a serious problem.
Taking said path also usually leads to a cinematic showing Harold being launched to a later part of the map. This is essential to get first in all maps, and in later ones, just to get the mandatory third to beat the map. And since these cinematics can’t be skipped and aren’t that funny the first time, going through them 20 or so times is downright painful.
Challenge maps, however, are where the game is at its best. Collecting stars presents very few of the structure choices that hurt the other two modes and is both fun and addicting. In fact, this would have served as a much better way to get familiar with the map than practice mode. But after going through the other two modes, I was really burnt out on the maps, as this mode is the last you unlock with each level.
Was the way I provided instructions for each section annoying? Were you were wondering, “Why is he putting in so much effort explaining this and stopping me from getting to the part I actually care about?” And how giving instructions at some parts even defeats the purpose because you have to know how to read to follow them? Well now you know how I felt during the Harold tutorial. Do yourself a favor and avoid the whole thing entirely.