We all need a little help from our guardian angels at times, but a certain red-haired poindexter in Harold from Moon Spider Studio needs his much more often. Harold, the clumsy obstacle course racer requires some major assistance if he’s ever going to make it into the top 3 of his competitions. In this refreshingly original take on the runner genre, players take control of an outside force capable of manipulating the environments that our well-meaning athlete must traverse. Will a change of perspective push the game into the winner’s circle, or will Harold end up in last place?
Something can be said for the general level of quality presented right off the bat in Harold. Before diving into the game itself, a superb cutscene plays, providing the low-down about what’s up with the strange but welcomed setting. You are Gabe, a guardian angel at the top of your game who barely gives an effort and still succeeds more than the others at your school. Sera, a fellow classmate, is not particularly happy with your natural ability. To make matters worse for her, the best student will be earning a scholarship to Archangel Academy and, needless to say, Sera wants to go instead of you.
Call it bad luck or outside interference, but our buddy Gabe has been tasked with watching over an ambitious but ill-suited young man by the name of Harold. The goal of each classmate is to aid various runners in obstacle races, guaranteeing them a place on the podium. As long as the competitors makes it into the top three, they’re allowed an advance to the next course. Most of the other angels don’t have much to worry about, what with their runners actually being in a somewhat capable condition. Not so for you, I’m afraid. But how on Earth are you going to get a podium position when Harold is obviously outmatched? Quick reflexes and a healthy dose of cheating, that’s how!
Welcome to the jungle! No fun and games to be had here though, only a determined group of fierce competitors with fire in their bellies and eyes on the prize, and Harold. With a gunshot they’re off, all except your guy due to some wacky mishap that causes him to start late. This is a recurring theme throughout the game, with more ridiculous things befalling the dimwit at the start of each race. So now you not only need to place in a top spot, but also have to catch up with the very back of the pack!
You’ve come prepared, though, bringing your trusty lightning bolts that can be used to give Harold that little boost he needs in the form of a painful zap to the rump. These so-called “puff powers” are your lifeblood; Not only are they used to make your runner dash, but are also a sort of health bar that depletes when Harold nonchalantly tumbles off a cliff or falls prey to a friendly row of spikes. With a maximum of three puff powers, it’s easy to guess that they’ll be used up pretty quickly. Luckily there are ways to restore them, and that’s where the real fun of this game begins.
See, the races these runners compete in are far from your typical track trials. No, these courses are littered with devastating traps that can easily send an athlete careening off to their doom. Truth be told, if Harold didn’t have a guardian angel looking over him, he’d be dead two seconds after leaving the starting line. Everything from rope swings, to moving platforms controlled by pulleys, to hungry sharks are just waiting to end the race for some poor sap. The good news? This doesn’t have to be your runner. It’s up to you to manipulate these obstacles to help Harold and hurt all the other competitors. So after positioning a floor for Harold to get by safely, feel free jerk the platform out from under the runner behind him. This can be used for runners ahead of Harold as well, but make sure to move it back so he doesn’t die, too! Every time you interfere with the other competitors, more puff power is added to your supply. With enough practice and skill, you can keep Harold in a dashing state the entire length of the race, resulting in that coveted first place position.
Difficulty steadily rises as you unlock more races across jungle, desert, snowy, and beach-themed layouts. Obstacles become more complex, and more appear on the same screen at once, forcing you to multi-task on controlling Harold’s jumps and multiple traps. The game offers a practice mode for each race, essential for perfecting each section and ultimately winning. Each course also has an optional challenge round to overcome, where your runner collects stars on a long stretch where one mistake means starting over. With each new area unlocked, more of the humorous story unfolds, with your rival Sera getting angrier and more devious every step of the way.
Harold has a colorful, cartoon graphics style that’s attractive for adults and children alike. Smooth animation in cutscenes helps bring the comical scenario to life, and gives the whole experience a professional, appealing look. Music and sound effects are equally suitable and well done, showing that the developers put ample time and care into crafting a well-polished game. In other words, I like the presentation, and I wager that most others will find everything about Harold charming as well.
A gamepad is necessary for playing Harold. While menu navigation is possible with the arrow keys, there’s currently no way to control anything during races and challenges with the keyboard. The game handles wonderfully when using a 360 controller, and everything responds quickly to input, ensuring that every failure is operator error and not the game’s fault. For those without a gamepad, however, keep in mind that playing will be impossible until they make keyboard controls, if they eventually do.
This is a beautiful, polished, original on-foot racing game fine-tuned by a dedicated group of people over the span of four years. With a multitude of courses, activities, and story animations to experience, Harold is worth $19.99 even among all the current indie competition. If you’re into quirky, simple but addictive games, make sure to give this lighthearted romp a spin.