The Horace Games

If you’re old enough to remember the early days of the ZX Spectrum, you will no doubt remember two special characters: Miner Willy, and Horace. One was a loveable rogue who collected shiny objects in a series of increasingly difficult locations; and the other was a giant blue creature that lived in your nightmares.

Today we are going to take a look at the latter.

What Is Horace?

Horace was an odd mascot for the ZX Spectrum. Never actually designed to be the Speccy’s mascot, he just became it through general consensus; and probably out of spite if we’re honest. He has that look about him, doesn’t he?

What is Horace? Who knows. He’s big, he’s blue and his face is in his chest. He’s an oddity but let’s be frank: we all instantly recognise him. That’s one of the things that makes a great mascot – you see it and you instantly know what it is. I’d have preferred something that didn’t look like someone had run the original design through a mangle but hey, we have what we have and we’ll just have to go with it.

Horace appeared in three games back in the ZX Spectrum’s lifetime and was scheduled for a fourth before his original creator disappeared. It’s sad that we never got to see his original fourth outing but them’s the breaks, as the saying goes.

Let’s take a look at each game, in order.

Hungry Horace

Every system has to have a Pac-Man clone on it; it’s practically Gaming Law at this point. For the Spectrum, that clone was Hungry Horace. Here you play the part of Horace, as you might expect, and your goal is to make Horace… not hungry, I suppose?

You do this by wandering around a series of interconnected mazes, eating stars and avoiding the enemies. The enemies are the same on each screen. They are decapitated heads with hats on, and they will kill you if you touch them.

This raises a very difficult question to answer, because we don’t have many context clues: are the heads giant, or is Horace really small? I’ll let you decide because I really don’t know. When I reviewed the Horace games for a GameHammer video, I drew Horace to be approximately human-sized but to be absolutely honest, I can’t say for certain if that’s accurate or not. What do you think?

As Pac-Man clones go, Hungry Horace is pretty good. It’s a fast-paced, easy to understand game that’s fun and quick to get to grips with. The colours and sounds may not be anything to write home about but the gameplay is all there and the multiple screens bring a little extra to the Pac-Man maze genre. I like it.

Horace Goes Skiing

The game that everyone remembers, even if they don’t remember the others. For some reason, this game seemed to appear in everyone’s Speccy library at one time or another. Whether you bought it yourself, or borrowed it from a friend or even found it just came with your computer; if you were a Spectrum owner, you had Horace Goes Skiing in your possession at one time or another. It’s just a fact of life.

Horace wants to go skiing but he has a problem: the ski shop is on the other side of a very wide and very busy road. What happens now is essentially a game of reverse Frogger, where you have to navigate traffic in order to progress down the screen to the ski shop. If you can’t make it across the road, you’ll have to pay for a trip to the hospital in an ambulance.

The game is really tough at first but persevere because it’s a fun game that’s worth playing. It’s also the first time we see multiple genres in the same Horace game. With Hungry Horace all we got was a Pac-Man maze game. Horace Goes Skiing starts out as a Frogger clone and then turns into a skiing simulator in the second half of the game.

The skiing section is a lot of fun. It’s a downhill slalom and you’ll have to keep your wits about you if you are going to navigate your way between the flags without smacking into a tree on the way. If you do hit a tree, there’s a chance your skis will break, which ends the round. The goal is basically to get as high a score as possible; as is common in arcade games of this style.

Horace Goes Skiing is by far my favourite Horace game. Like its predecessor, it’s simple fun but there’s enough to it to keep you coming back for more. I recommend you give it a try.

Horace And The Spiders

The first Horace game featured one game style. The second featured two. The laws of natural progression require this third game in the franchise to up the ante once more; and it does so in a haphazard fashion.

Horace and the Spiders presents us with a set of three simple mini-games that are loosely strung together. Each mini-game is basic at most and only the third one will really keep you interested. You’ll also beat the game on your second try; perhaps even your first. It’s a massive disappointment after two great games in the series.

The first section is a basic run-and-jump game. You need to get past a spider that just sits there on the ground and you do this by jumping at the right time. That’s it, nothing more.

Next up we have a basic rope-jumping game. You need to navigate across a chasm by leaping from thread to thread so you can get to the other side without dying. The threads are thin whisps of spider silk and, if you’re very unlucky, the spider it’s coming from will bite you; so keep your reflexes honed for a quick jump off to the next thread.

So far, so dull.

The final screen is where the game gets interesting. If you’ve ever played the classic arcade game Space Panic, you’ll know what to do here. You need to climb the vertical spider webs to reach the points where you are near the spiders. When you are near a spider, jump up and down to tear a hole in the horizontal spider webs that are creating the platforms you and the spiders are walking on.

Spiders will fall in these holes. When they do, rush over and jump up and down on the spider until it falls through the hole. Trap and jump on the spider a second time and it dies. Kill all the spiders and you win.

There’s about five minutes of gameplay in this game (at most) before you reach the end. It’s very short and to be absolutely honest, there’s not enough here to keep you coming back.

Space Panic is a game with enough gameplay in it to keep you coming back for more and when it was ported to the Amstrad CPC as Roland Goes Digging, it was a whole game in its own right; with progressively more difficult screens and a gameplay loop that really worked. Here in Horace and the Spiders it’s a cut-down shadow of its former self. There’s barely enough to keep your attention and it just isn’t worth it.

As a final game in the series, Horace and the Spiders would be a poor title to end on. Thankfully it wasn’t the end. While the original final game in the franchise never appeared, we did get a fourth title on the Psion Series 3 palm computer; and that was eventually converted to the ZX Spectrum in 2010.

Horace and the Mystic Woods

Manic Miner was the first outing for the Spectrum’s other mascot, Miner Willy, so it makes a lot of sense for Horace to give Miner Willy’s style of game a try in his fourth outing. Horace and the Mystic Woods is a Manic Miner clone with a lot of polish to it; and it’s immense fun to play.

You play as Horace and your goal is to collect stars, like you did way back in Hungry Horace, while navigating a series of platforms and avoiding baddies. Once you have all the stars, you need to make it to the exit.

It’s a clear Manic Miner clone but it comes with its own charm and its own lovely soundtrack. The title music is brilliant and the death scream is actually very well done; which is a sentence I never thought I would have to write.

Horace moves very quickly and it’s worth noting that he will bounce off the edges of the screen, so be careful. Sometimes it feels like he’s running on ice, so don’t expect him to stop dead when you take your hands off the controls. This is one game that you will keep coming back to; and not just because it has a lot of levels. It takes a while just to master how it works.

That’s no bad thing however because it really is great fun to play. As the final game in the series, it’s nice to see that Horace and the Mystic Woods is a good one. Old Horace went out on a winner; and we can’t ask for better than that.