REVIEW: Horgihugh

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

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Horgihugh | boxart
Title Horgihugh
Developer PiXEL
Publisher LionWing Publishing
Release Date June 11, 2019
Genre Side-Scrolling SHMUP
Platform PC
Age Rating N/A
Official Website

Horgihugh is a 2D, side-scrolling SHMUP and the debut game by developer PiXEL. Not quite the bullet hell and nightmare inducing experience of other SHMUPs, Horgihugh still possesses the key characteristics of the genre. Combining those with an original story, classic 16-bit style, and an adorable aesthetic, and you have a notable first offering from a fledgling development studio.

Horgihugh starts off by introducing its backstory, set in a world similar to our own yet with its population consisting of anthropomorphic animals. After relative peace for most of its history, a single violent event triggers a world war. During this conflict, a former pilot, Dr. Howard, discovers an alien stone, one that could be used to neutralize any and all weapons this world possesses. However, before he could finish his work to end the war, the conflict ends on its own accord. Since then, a global initiative to renounce the possession of weapons is put in place.

Horgihugh | plot 1

Six years later, following a signal from the stone, aliens, called the Gozarean, arrive on earth and begin to steadily take over. One country, which broke the treaty to disarm, has an arsenal and launches a counter attack, only to fail due to the alien’s ability to neutralize these weapons. Meanwhile, two pilots who turned their backs on the world war and who isolated themselves since, are now the only means of defense, as their vintage biplanes are the only weapons unaffected by the aliens’ ability. Hugh the dog and Figaro the cat are thrust into action, the last hope of the world against the Gozarean invasion.

Horgihugh | plot 2

The story of Horgihugh sets the stage for the game, explaining the whats and whys for this conflict. The entire story is presented as a prologue cutscene and that’s all we really get before the epilogue. The prologue feels like it’s just lumped up and thrown at you before anything else happens. It’s also not the most intriguing or thought provoking of stories, though I suppose it does enough of a job to explain why we as players are controlling World War II era aircraft against an advanced alien invasion. It serves a purpose, but it’s hardly memorable. The epilogue fares only slightly better, in that there is a relevant message we can all learn from. If anything story related can be called memorable, it’s that single message at the very end. And I do realize that SHMUPs in general rarely have intriguing stories to begin with, but the lack here does zero favors.

Horgihugh | plot 3

The characters, too, are not all that thought provoking, simply serving the purpose of addressing who’s fighting who. Hugh and Figaro are two pilots who had isolated themselves, not wanting to use their flying talents to cause suffering or death. But, as the only hope in a new war against aliens, they take action. While Figaro gets a sarcastic line or two during play and while we do get a few lines at the end, we don’t get much else from either character. Much of their personalities is implied or left to us to assume. Bare bones, unmemorable, moving on.

As a SHMUP, the heart of the game is not in its story, narrative, or character development, but in its gameplay. Though this is the first game from a new developer, Horgihugh has solid gameplay for the genre. There is an appreciable degree of action and challenge here, as players dodge and destroy in classic 2D, side-scrolling fashion. Several traditional elements of play are also present, including the need to recognize enemy patterns and familiarize oneself with level layouts if you’re planning to survive or rack up a high score. Upgrades are available via collecting medals or buying them from Howard’s Lab with collected crystals and examples include increasing firepower and improving defense. If you’re struggling, there’s also Angela’s Shop, which offers extra lives or a level selector to practice unlocked levels. Keep in mind, using Angela’s items will incur point penalties. During play, one unique gameplay element is the somersault, which destroys enemies and makes Hugh invincible for a few moments. Another unique element of this game, after a number of medals are collected, Figaro will join the fight, mimicking your control of Hugh and adding to your destructive power. You can also control Figaro’s formation, moving him in front, behind, above or below Hugh. A bit of innovation goes a long way here.

Horgihugh | Figaro

In terms of its execution, Horgihugh hits most of the expected marks, with fluid movement, appreciable upgrades, and plenty of fun to be had. I thought having Figaro as a copilot was great, both as an innovative element and one that actually contributes to gameplay rather than an unnecessary change for change’s sake. I do wish there was more innovation or uniqueness to play, as the game quickly feels overly familiar to other SHMUPs. I also wish the game was longer. Levels feel a bit short and because of that, six levels just doesn’t feel adequate. Most players will be done with the entire experience, replays and all, within a few hours. What I do appreciate is the challenge level of the game, allowing itself to appeal both to veterans of the genre, as well as newcomers. I like how both an easy and normal difficulty are available from the start and, for the most part, the challenge remains even with only few moments when the difficulty spikes. Fortunately, those are rare and most will be able to manage the campaign in its entirety. The one gripe of mine I can’t forgive is the lack of customizable controls. The keyboard controls are not the most intuitive and require practice to master. The developers even recommend using a controller, which is telling. Using my Xbox controller, I found the controls much easier to master, however I again wish I could have customized them. Such a small convenience to players can make an experience changing impact.

Horgihugh | Howard's Blimp

When Howard’s Blimp appears, fly into it to enter his shop

What stands out the most in Horgihugh is its aesthetic charm. Visually, the game is adorable, offering an appeal for all ages through its 16-bit era pixel art while also impressively disguising the hidden destruction and challenge that lie within. The character designs are cute and the miscues that come from enemy appearances, especially the sub and main bosses, is satisfyingly deceiving. It doesn’t matter how cute Hugh, Figaro, or the enemies are, everything poses a threat and it’s all lovably illustrated. I also love the level designs, ranging from oceans and cloudy skies to caves, blizzards, and cityscapes. Artists KOU, Hidekunki Sasaki, and Kengo Tanaka have lent their talents to the visuals and the results are charming in every aspect. The audio is equally impressive, with catchy tunes that fit the overall style of the game perfectly. Konami composer Motoaki Furukawa has created a soundtrack that perfectly captures the tone of the game, emphasizing the charismatic visuals. Although the soundtrack probably won’t stick with you afterwards, its charm and quality are a pleasure to listen to in the moment. Together, the visual and audio aesthetics are easily the highlights of Horgihugh.

Horgihugh | boss

Horgihugh accomplishes what it sets out it do, in that it provides its players with a no-nonsense, action-packed experience. The 16-bit stylizing and the cutesy anthropomorphic aesthetic add plenty of charm, furthering its appeal to a wider audience. Yet, with a forgettable story, missteps in its gameplay; controls, lack of innovation, and limited number of levels; and with achieving high-scores or going for perfect playthroughs as the only reasons for replay, the overall experience lacks enough punch to take it beyond average territory. The price tag of about $12 (original price) is steep for what the game provides and unless you’re an avid fan of SHMUPs, charming aesthetics, or you’re looking for a solid entry point into the genre, you may want to give this a pass. If that price were to ever drop by half or more, then I would whole-heartedly recommend the purchase to anyone interested. PiXEL has provided an acceptable first release, as Horgihugh is, overall, a fun experience throughout. They’ve impressed me enough that I’ll be keeping an eye on PiXEL in the future.

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About Drew D.

Drew has been an avid gamer most of his life, favoring single-player campaigns. For him, a worthwhile game is one that immerses you; it envelops you and draws out an array of emotions that produce those memorable moments we live for as gamers.