Once limited to mobile devices, the endless runner genre has been making a stronger push onto consoles and PC, especially at the end of 2014 and into 2015. Harold, developed by Moon Spider Studio, is an unique take on a racing platforming game with old-school flair and difficulty.
As a guardian angel in-training, you are tasked with guiding the titular character, Harold, through progressively difficult races resembling dangerous obstacle courses. Visually the game has a lot in common with classic Disney animated films. The quality 2D ones, not the recent 3D monstrosities. Considering the team's many veteran artists worked on movies including Lion King and Princess Mononoke, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the hand-drawn animation comes across as eye popping and silky smooth.
With each race requiring precise timing, the uniquely designed and themed courses are broken into various modes. Before racing, you must run through the race in smaller, bite-sized chunks to practice navigating the obstacles set in Harold's path. These feel akin to a mobile game, allowing you to retry as many times as possible before moving on to the next one. Three stars can be collected in each practice segment and getting all three stars in every segment will yield an advantage during the race.
Poor Harold is the least qualified character to win, and while Gabe (the guardian angel you control) has never had to put much effort in being the best, these races require him to study like never before. Each of the races I've played, Harold has a comical situation occur to him prior to the start of the race. Whether you are stuck at the starting line from frozen dog piss, or having to rush to the bathroom from drinking too much water, you are immediately put in an disadvantage.
In order to advance to the next race, you must finish in one of the top three positions (six racers in total). All of courses contain multiple paths, some which shave valuable seconds off your total time. Now Harold is slow, and I mean painfully slow on his own. In order to win the race, you'll have to continuously boost. Boosts, which are literally lightning bolts thrown at Harold's backside, help him embrace his inner speed demon (or angel). Using the speed boosts are a double edged sword, as they also serve as "lives" if Harold meets an untimely demise during the race. Passing over winged halos will replenish the boosts, so you'll want to ensure you don't miss any pickups.
At first you'll be trying to help navigate scrawny Harold over wooden walls, swing him across gaping pits, send him leaping off icicles, and more. Although I knew exactly what I wanted to do, I had a frustrating time taking care of so many things in a short window. Timing is key, and when you miss by just a step, it proves to be costly. Interface is a big part of the game, and you need to be quick on your controller to sabotage the other racers. At the same time you are trying to navigate across a moving platform (which you control on your own), you may have to toss a lightning bolt at poor Harold, switch to a hanging icicle to knock off the more fit competitors, move to another platform to guide Harold safely through, and make sure you jump at the right time to collect any necessary pickups. I am glad to see that Moon Spider has stepped up with an attempt to reinvent the runner genre, and in doing so made Harold a success.
Hidden throughout the races are shortcuts, providing an entertaining animation on what is happening to our titular character. My favorite involves being tossed around an ice field like a football by a family of yetis. Every race has a shortcut and you may have to do some digging in order to discover the location.
I should also mention that Harold will require the use of a controller, even though the game is currently only available through Steam. I used a Dualshock 4 (PS4) controller while reviewing Harold, although Steam recommended a Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller.
The sheer amount of things that can be done in Harold is astounding. I never thought an endless runner game could become as complex as the game Mood Spider has created, and yet I've found myself drawn to the challenge. Even after acing the practice segments, adding in the additional racers creates a new dynamic. Less hand holding and full on old-school experience, Harold's gameplay is only surpassed by the top-notch animation and vibrant visuals.
Note: The Harold review is based on a digital PC copy of the game, provided for review purposes.