Horizon Shift ’81
Switch version tested
Review code provided
Horizon Shift ’81 is a retro-inspired action shmup developed by Flump Studios. Part sequel, part remaster of the award-nominated Horizon Shift and takes inspiration from arcade classics such as Galaga, Asteroid and Tempest. Now available on the Nintendo Switch TBG takes a look at what this out of the world title has to offer in a bid to stand above the rest while reaching for the sky.
Growing up as a kid in the 80’s meant one of two things, firstly a really bad hair cut and secondly the pull of the local arcade. It was a simpler time for gaming, crowded rooms, the warm glow of flashing lights and the distinct whiff of stale body odour in the air. Although times have changed, well we’d like to think that our hairstyles have improved at the very least, one thing has remained consistent and that is the need to play just one more time to beat that previous run and high score. And this is where Horizon Shift ’81 really begins to shine.
On the surface, Horizon Shift ’81 is a simple space shooter in which you control a spaceship that resides upon a horizontal playing field in the centre of the screen. Moving left to right as a means to kill everything with an arsenal of weaponry. What this game does differently is that you can flip the ship vertically to fend off enemy craft that appear from the opposite direction. Think of it as playing both sides of the Pong table, just with guns, lots of guns. It adds a level of skill and strategy to the game that makes this a unique experience and all the more fun for it. Gameplay soon becomes frantic and insanely difficult at times but its all about the challenge. It is clear that Horizon Shift ’81 was a labour of love for the developers and as such we are presented with a very polished final product. As you rank you through the different levels new enemy types are introduced, size, shape and attack patterns add a layer of complexity to the forefront. Giant pixelated asteroids, if not dispensed quickly, come crashing through your precious line potentially causing you to fall. Fear not though as if you are skilled enough you can quickly flip and jump back onto the other side, it takes timing and precision so be prepared to die the first couple of times.
As you attack and destroy enemy craft the bomb bar at the bottom of the screen slowly fills ready to be unleashed at that perfectly timed moment clearing a seemingly impossible screen. Keep those eyes glued to the action for when the big H collectable drops as this goes one better giving the all mighty hyper attack. Boss fights take a little longer but their health bar gives an indication of just how much more effort is needed. One of the big keys to success is collecting the right power-up at the right moment. Need a double jump or better weapon, then keep an eye out for gifts from above and below. Controls are perfect with a simple and logical setup, move, shoot, jump. The button layout can be reconfigured to suit. The spaceship is also armed with a side dash attack which is invaluable to help clear any stray enemies that make their way onto your horizontal line. Little spacemen also can be absorbed, collect as many as possible and a bonus awaits. Speaking of which the bonus sections are another fun nod to the golden age of gaming by changing the play style in a version of Arkanoid whereby you must break bricks without letting the ball fall.
Even though Horizon Shift ’81 is a budget title this doesn’t mean it is lacking in content. There are loads of levels to play and in a plethora of differing modes – Arcade Classic, Arcade Arranged, Speed Up, Hyper, Free and Boss mode. All are takes on the same setup but add variety by limiting the number of lives or speed of the game. Leaving the tutorial on is advantageous especially when starting out as it will give out handy tidbits of advice in a similar fashion to the loading screens.
The game looks and sounds great too. Graphics are retro but immensely pleasing with a number of customisation options. Modern, retro, glow, mix and match them how you see fit or go for the works which knocks everything up to eleven. It even allows you to add an old school CRT scanline filter effect if you want that truly authentic experience. The soundtrack is sublime accompanied by punchy laser and explosion effects. To be picky, the only down point would be that because of the games setup everything is tiny in handheld mode. Thankfully the developer had the foresight to include an option to play in portrait mode and with the addition of a peripheral such as the Flip Grip this no longer is an issue. You can even find yourself with a JoyCon in each hand and the body of the Switch resting against the nearest suitable object which, to be honest, is in keeping with the nature of the Switch. Play how and where you want.
Horizon Shift ’81 is a welcomed addition to the Nintendo Switch library. It provides a fun and polished experience that for many (us oldies) acts as a reminder of just why we started playing games in the first place. For newcomers it offers enough in the way of gameplay modes to keep things exciting and you coming back for more. The price point is perfectly positioned to make this a recommended purchase!
TBG Score: 7.5/10
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 20/12/2018
No. of Players: 1
Category: Shooter, Action Arcade
Developer: Flump Studio
Publisher: Funbox Media
Download link: eShop