Review - Horn

Posted on September 14, 2012 - 1:10pm

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Reviewer Note - In this case, the "Rent It" option is meant to be taken as a cautionary recommendation.

Infinity Blade revolutionized mobile gaming back in 2010 by not only being the first mobile game to run on the Unreal Engine, but also by offering a simple and fun yet deep combat system that was created exclusively for a touchscreen. As phenomenal as that game was, even more so its sequel, I always felt that not being able to roam freely removed some sense of adventure. Apparently, Phosphor Games thought so as well, so they gave us Horn, a Zelda-esque action game featuring a similar combat system to Infinity Blade. With a description like that, one can only expect greatness, but is the whole equal to the sum of its parts?

In Horn, you play as Horn (of course), a blacksmith’s apprentice who wakes up one day in the ruins of a tower with a strange crystal at his side. He soon discovers that not only have hundreds of years passed, but also that every living creature on the earth has been turned into a soulless metal machine. He journeys across the land, trying to discover why this bizarre and catastrophic thing has happened and hopefully reverse it. While the story isn’t exactly engrossing, it is very intriguing. You simply can’t help but be curious about how all organic life was turned into metal, and this pondering will most likely keep you going until the game’s end.

It should definitely be noted that Horn has some great voice acting. Horn himself is likable and believable, complemented by impressive facial animations during cutscenes that raise the bar for future mobile games. The other main character, Gourd, is the disembodied head of a machine. He is constantly bantering with Horn, his soullessness contrasting perfectly with the optimistic boy. These two do an excellent job of accenting your adventuring with a couple chuckles.

The graphics in Horn were the first thing I noticed, but not in a good way. Customers should be aware that on the iPhone 4 (the handset I own), Horn does not utilize the Retina Display. This leads to pixelated graphics and low-resolution textures (as is evident in the screenshots), which is incredibly distracting. On the other supported devices, however, Horn looks fantastic. Phosphor Games has created a familiar yet unique medieval world, where the ruins were caused by the simple wear and tear of time, not acts of war like most games. I greatly enjoyed the simple act of wandering throughout the land and enjoying the atmosphere.

The music in Horn was composed by the same man who scored Journey: Austin Wintory. The music is always light and kind-spirited, never becoming dark or foreboding like many other medieval soundtracks. It feels very Scottish, the tone of high-flying, family-friendly adventure feeling very similar to Pixar’s Brave. The hollow clang of your sword hitting a foe and the rustle of the wind sound organic and further immerse you in this fantasy world.

Horn’s combat, as mentioned before, is very similar to Infinity Blade’s, though not quite as varied. While facing your opponent, you are able to slash your sword by swiping on the screen. By pressing buttons on either side of the screen, you roll around. While this does allow you to move 360 degrees around your opponent, which makes combat feel more fast paced and fluid, the lack of even a basic block option is disappointing. On top of that, the way your sword reacts to your swipes is inaccurate and loose. I often felt removed from the game during combat, since my sword wouldn’t slice exactly where I needed it to. It’s a competent system that certainly has its moments, but it isn’t very innovative or rewarding.

There aren’t very many types of enemies in Horn, which additionally limits combat. Each enemy has a series of unique attacks of varying strengths. Eventually figuring out how to avoid these moves is part of the game’s fun. A small weak point is included on each creature, which is the only place worth striking. Even with a good blade, a basic strike on the enemy is but a scratch, so battles boil down to rolling to their weak point, slashing at it, dodging the counter-attack, then repeating this until one of you dies. Again, the combat is decent, but it isn’t nearly as precise and/or exciting as it could and should be.

Surprisingly, most of the time playing Horn will not be spent battling, but rather exploring and puzzle-solving. Instead of a virtual joystick, you control Horn’s movement by tapping where you want to go on the screen. Though I still maintain that a virtual joystick works well, this control method is much more approachable to newcomers of iOS gaming. The only downside is that Horn has no path-finding AI, meaning you will have to manually walk around obstacles. A few quasi-quicktime events are also included in the exploration. When you make a long jump, for example, you have to tap on the opposite ledge as you approach it to avoid falling. As mentioned before, just running around is fairly enjoyable, which is luckily a common activity.

The puzzles in Horn are elemental and incredibly basic. Nearly all of them involve simply firing your crossbow through fire to light another torch, finding and pulling levers, and playing a song from your horn in certain spots to move ruined buildings. Unfortunately these puzzles are almost never an actual challenge. They never feel like a focus of the game, despite how much time you spend doing them. If they were given more time during development, the mediocre combat may have taken a backseat and therefore would be more forgivable.

Horn will take you about ten hours to complete. There are also numerous hidden areas to find, weapons to forge, and costumes to buy. I highly doubt you’ll want to play through it a second time, however. The combat simply isn’t enjoyable enough to justify a second playthrough, so most will be satisfied to put it down after reaching the story’s conclusion. It is for that reason that I can’t recommend that everyone picks this one up, since any mobile game asking for the premium $6.99 price point should offer either a decent multiplayer or more campaign replayability.

Horn attempts to add a requested feature to a popular game's concept while still creating its own identity, and in this Phosphor Games most certainly succeeds. In the process, however, they seem to have left out a lot of elements that made their source material great in the first place. Horn is a completely competent, decently enjoyable game with a lot to offer, but since it does borrow so heavily from superior games, it might be one to pass in favor of those. I hope that in the future this IP can improve, because the potential is obvious.

6 / 10
Above Average

(6s have good ideas, but may not be executed the best. It can be enjoyable by certain circumstances or fans, but may feel shallow to most.)

Sean Capdeville is the official mobile game reviewer of A cynic and aspiring filmmaker, his favorite games include Skyrim, Link's Awakening DX, and NOVA 3. In his spare time, he likes to reference Casablanca.

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