Picture this. You’re a popular student who doesn’t need to try hard to get good grades. You’re so good that you only need to do above average on a dozen fitness tests in order to get a full-paid scholarship to your dream school. What’s the catch? Well, you’re not the one taking the test. Your fate is in the hands of an out-of-shape, asthma-riddled wannabee marathon runner named Harold.
This single player, side-scrolling racing game spans across 12 stages in various settings such as jungles, beaches, deserts, and arctic areas. In a realistic world, Harold would never ever win a race. However, when guided by Gabe, an angel, he has a chance especially due Gabe’s excellence at practically anything he does. Gabe acts as the catalyst for Harold, controlling aspects of the race course and pushing Harold along through various means.
Before each race, you’re forced to practice the hardest sections of the course. If you 3-star every practice mini mission, you’ll get an extra slot for a Puff, otherwise known as an extra life or a running boost. This is the least fun part of the game. It’s essentially you against yourself which is a blessing and a curse. Sure, you have time to perfect each section before the main race but it can get aggravating and boring very fast. In order to advance to the next course, you need that fourth Puff. It’s borderline impossible to get 3rd place or anything higher without it.
The true novelty of this racing game is that you control mostly everything Harold interacts with. You are the Hand of God. Sometimes you can make Harold jump or give him a boost but for the most part, you’ll spend your time turning cranks or leveling platforms so by the time Harold makes it to the drawbridge, it’s a smooth straight away. You can also interfere with other players by cutting ropes while they’re umping. When Harold does well, an upbeat heavenly chorus takes over the low-key background music and acts as a cheering squad. I couldn’t help but want to listen to Shakira’s Waka Waka theme song from the Fifa 2010 World Cup due to the similar sounding island beat.
In between races, the storyline progresses. Both Gabe and his easily-irritated cheating rival, Sera, aren’t particularly likable kids. Gabe is far from humble and Sera isn’t a fair player. She’s the Malfoy of the schiik, if you catch my drift. Her dad is famous within Archangel Academy, the place both students are vying for scholarships from. Sera despises your character and will do anything to best Gabe from the start. They’re both parallels of each other which makes them interesting rivals.
You must use a controller to play this game. I would’ve preferred my keyboard but it wasn’t an option. I found myself forgetting which button does what when I was rushing during a race. Sometimes it was also unclear as to which parts of the map were interactive and when I could access them. That’s why the practice sessions are so important but even so, the clunkiness was still there. It would’ve been useful if such items stood out more.
Harold is a fun game that sometimes makes you want to throw your controller across the room. With that being said, this is Moon Spider Studio’s premier indie title and for what it is, it’s a nice pick-it-up-anytime game with inspiring chorale music and graphics drawn by Pixar, Dreamworks, and Studio Ghibli alumni. It’s great for speedrunners and those who like puzzle with a twist. However, I can’t recommend it for gamers who dislike repetitive gameplay. You’re going to have a lot of trial and error here.
Harold sells for $19.99 on Steam and is available now.