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Harold preview - it's like playing a cartoon!

Ever wish you could play something as funny and well animated as a classic cartoon? We certainly have, and it seems Moonspider Studios wants to answer our prayers. Its upcoming PC and console release Harold captures the hilarious slapstick and awesome sound design of a classic animated comedy. It’s no wonder; some of the development team is composed of ex-Warner Bros and Disney animators. As a result, Harold is something of a glorious mash-up of Dragon’s Lair, Mario Kart and a Roadrunner cartoon.

When we say glorious, we mean it, as in the glory of heaven above. In Harold players take on the role of a guardian angel charged with looking after the wimpiest contestant in a punishing cross-country race. Imagine Fry from Futurama crossed with Lester the Unlikely and you’ve got Harold. Keeping your heavenly charge safe is not a job any angel could do sitting down. During our demo, keeping Harold out of pits and spike traps took quick thinking and fast fingers, and that was just keeping him alive. To push him to the front of the pack you’ll need to shake loose all the little secrets of a level, which will reward you with rich animated cut scenes.

Each level of Harold is a race where we, the guardian angel, didn’t have direct control over our racer friend. Harold ambles along with his goofy, loping gait, too slow to ever have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning without some help from above. To keep him on pace we had to look down the track, moving platforms and readying elevators in anticipation of his arrival. A bit like a Lemming, Harold would walk right of a cliff if we didn’t put something under his floppy feet.

We might have been playing as a heavenly herald (get it?), but that didn’t mean our behavior had to be strictly angelic. One of the most fun (and effective) ways of moving Harold up the ranks was by sabotaging the other racers. When you move a platform to grab your goofy little buddy, you can also move it out from under another racer, dropping them to doom and disastrous delay.

As much as quick thinking and twitch gameplay skills were important for leading Harold to success, knowledge of the map was also a key. Getting Harold to place third is enough to advance to the next level, but dedicated players will want to return for a bigger challenge. Harold is built with such replay value in mind, with multiple possible paths to take in each level. We also found a secret area that rewarded us with a shortcut, and a hilarious animated cutscene. It was short, sweet and full of quick little visual gags, definitely the kind of thing that will remain rewarding with multiple viewings.

Harold’s music was also dynamic and just plain striking. Appropriately enough for a game about a helper from heaven, it was a gospel choir. Their heavenly voices build and build as Harold pulls past the competition, putting pressure on the player and adding a layer of beauty to the silly, cartoon inspired experience.

Make no mistake though, Harold is animated with microscopic precision, to the point where Moonspider should be expecting a call from Cartoon Network asking for the rights to a series. The developers slowed the game down to a frame-by-frame to show us how Harold stretched and snapped before shooting forward like a cannonball (after we’d provided a little “motivation” with a lightning bolt to his butt). However, we didn’t need super slow-mo to appreciate how awesome the game looked. Every character in the race moved with its own distinct step, and levels came to life with an impressive mix of 2D and 3D animation. We had almost as much fun watching the developers play as we did holding the controller ourselves.

With its gorgeous animation, delirious sense of humor and angelic music, Harold is a truly promising, atypical upcoming release. Details on the game’s release date are still cloudy; all we know is sometime next year. Games like Harold don’t fall out of the sky too often, so we’ll be keeping watch on this one.

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