Horace review – a glimpse into a singular mind

Schubert’s Unfinished is a lovely bit of music. So strange, so contradictory. It’s multi-faceted, all theatrical baddie, and then fun-on-a-swing for a bit as it swoops politely back and forth, and then it gets properly dramatic, brooding, insistent, filled with genuine menace. Spielberg dropped it into Minority Report to capture the shifting thoughts of an agent investigating a crime that has yet to happen, possibilities dreamt up and discarded. I think Beck uses it, that long arcing note near the start, in one of his cut-ups. I know almost nothing about music, but Schubert’s Unfinished is one of those pieces I keep an ear out for. It’s always a thrill – always a sign, I tell myself, of sympathetic tastes. (Bonus Schubert fact I only just discovered: his friends called him “Little Mushroom”.)

Horace features a chiptune version of Schubert’s Unfinished. Early in proceedings, one of the first sequences. I noted it and moved on, one cherished reference amongst others. Is that the old Thames TV logo? Is that a Ford Capri? If you are a person of a very certain age – actually given the Schubert thing I may have messed this opening up a bit – Horace will make a very pleasing first impression. Good thing too. This wilful, intensely personal game from Paul Helman and Sean Scaplehorn arrives on Switch with quite a daunting reputation. It took six years to make! It’s weird and constantly evolving, I’d read, a sort of Tristram Shandy of a platformer! It never settles down, you never know what to expect! It seems to have come through a wormhole from a distant part of the universe!

Yet it’s sort of comforting. For players of a very certain age Horace kind of makes sense. For me, it harks back to the flickering days of the Commodore 64 when games came on tapes and were all glimpses into the singular minds of the singular people who created them. Platformers ruled, and the graphics were so simple and abstract that surrealism was the norm. Re-runs of Monty Python and the books of Douglas Adams were the main cultural currency for people who liked computers. The soundtracks were always beautifully pieced together versions of copyright free classics: Moonlight Serenade, The Entertainer, Schubert’s Unfinished.

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