Mobile Game of the Week: Horn (iOS)

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Mobile Game of the Week: Horn (iOS)


Platform: iOS (Android coming soon)
Developer: Phosphor Games Studios
Publisher: Zynga
Release Date: 8/16/12
Price: $6.99

There are plenty of people out there who’ve rejected the smartphone as a legitimate form of gaming. Their critiques? The App Store is filled with casual, surface-level games that are good for two minute playing intervals but lack any true substance. Meanwhile, “hardcore” gamers who support the platform usually defend with examples from iOS’ library of console-clones like Shadowgun, N.O.V.A. and Modern Combat.

But outside of a few standouts like Infinity Blade and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, where are the full-length games that both meet industry standards in terms of production and use the capabilities of the medium to make something unique and fresh?

Enter Horn, a third-person action/adventure game from Phosphor Games and Zynga that ambitiously attempts to take on all of that built-up anticipation and criticism on the shoulders of its fantasy adventure game setting. Horn is gorgeous. Perhaps not as refined as Infinity Blade 2, but gorgeous nonetheless. Even with the frame rate skipping around, it’s not hard to be impressed with what Phosphor Games has accomplished on the platform.

You play as Horn, a young son of a blacksmith who awakes to find his world torn to pieces by mysterious giant robots. Early on, you find out that these robots are actually living creatures, sometimes even people, who have fallen under a curse. The way the game brings these giant beings to life instantly recalls The Iron Giant in both tone and art (which is a particularly awesome film to be inspired by).

All the controls in the game, exploring and combat included, are limited to touch, which means no on-screen buttons or joysticks. It’s a smart system that lets players freely interact with the environment in a point and click fashion. Need to hop a ledge, collect a gem or explore the ruins of a town? It’s all one tap away and for the most part, it feels great. The combat works even more seamlessly—Infinity Blade-esque slashes of the screen combined with a fun dodging and countering technique makes the simple combat in Horn easy to pick up and learn. The scripted elements of the exciting boss battles break up the repetition while battles in general are spaced out enough to not get boring.

Unfortunately, Horn brings with it all the problems that have plagued even triple-A console games have for years now. First off, the writing and presentation comes off as pretty heavy-handed. Cut scenes, campy voice acting, stiff characters and storytelling hand-holding of every kind pops up throughout just about every scene of the game. Furthermore, the game forces awkward, if well-intentioned, relationships between characters. It’s not surprising in the world of fantasy action-adventure games, but it does feel like a missed opportunity for a mobile game to streamline storytelling in a way that would get games of this kind out of the storytelling ruts they’ve been stuck in. Horn reminded me of all the reasons I’ve been turned off from so many of the blockbuster productions that lack any real narrative strength or conviction about the most effective way a story should be told in a videogame. It’s disappointing for a game that realizes so much of its promise to ultimatley play it safe in the long run.