written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
The most immediate thought that comes to mind when one thinks of mobile (phone) gaming are short experiences contained within one larger platform. Notable examples are games like Angry Birds or Plants vs. Zombies, these are experiences that can be contained within the realm of waiting rooms and ballet recitals. Though I hate to identify a whole subsection of gaming as “casual,” it seems to be the only way to differentiate it (for the record, I say we are all gamers… casual or hardcore, COD fan boys or senior citizens still playing Wii Sports, we are all gamers).
On to the game, Horn from Zynga (I know! Something that isn’t FARMVILLE-esque) is a third person action adventure game. While optimized for the touch interface of an iOS device, under the hood it is as ambitious as many triple A titles!
You play as Horn, a young blacksmith’s apprentice. Upon waking up (and having no recollection how you got there) you soon come to realize that your world has been transformed and your village (along with the surrounding lands) are not chock full of these fantastical, and some quite humorous and persnickety, creatures called Pygon. Your role is to find the reason for why your world was transformed and how to bring it back to being your home again. The narrative is snappy and well-written, plus surprisingly great voice acting round out a truly cinematic experience.
This game is gorgeous! Horn is a true testament to what is possible in the realm of iOS games. As a side note, the game is optimized for use on the iPhone 4S and the iPad2 or higher, so immediately it alienates a good chunk of the iOS gaming community. If ever there were a reason to upgrade (other than all the pretties and shinys), Horn would be it. The world of Horn is gorgeous; it is evident just how closely the developers worked on making this world as beautiful as it is immersive. Character models for our hero and the enemy Pygons are all intricately designed and there is very few recycling of resources. This is hands down the prettiest game in the iOS app store, bar none!
Frequently, where “console-like” experiences fail on the iOS platform is in executing basic movement. Virtual D-Pads/Analog sticks make for experiences that generally make for rage quit worthy moments. In my most humble opinion, where iOS game developers frequently fall short is trying to recreate that controller in an environment that doesn’t have physical inputs. Horn takes the touch screen and builds the game around it. Drag your finger across the screen to and that adjusts the camera and pitch, see where you want to go? Just tap that area on the map and Horn runs to that spot. If you are familiar with point and click adventure games, that form of movement will feel right at home. Some instances require Horn to shoot lesser Pygons with his crossbow or shoot zip lines to special ledges to fly up. Jumping is just a tap away, and for longer jumps, you are required to tap the ledge when indicated.
Battles occur in real time, but control scheme changes. Those of you who have played Infinity Blade will feel right at home. For those of you who haven’t played Infinity Blade, gameplay is as follows; there are arrows on each side of the screen, tap that and Horn rolls around the enemy in an attempt to flank it or dodge attacks, when Horn finds an opening, just swipe across the enemy and Horn will swing his weapon in that direction. During special instances, a QTE (quick time event) prompts Horn to jump then slash either up, down, left, or right to render the enemy dizzy and follow up with a flurry of slashes. At some points, parts of the enemy Pygon’s armor will chip away, revealing a glowing “weak point”. These are moments Horn must exploit to increase the ultimate score of the battle and end battles much quicker.
Both exploration and battles are handled very well and truly use the limitations of the touch interface to the game’s advantage. My only gripe is that during some moments, exploration is imprecise and you may pull your hair out trying to get Horn to go where you want him to go.
Overall, Horn is a fun distraction and surprisingly immersive. Exploration and battles are both intuitive and make for a truly high caliber gaming experience (especially for such a small platform). I can see future titles taking the cue from Horn and continue to improve on touch interface gaming. While not the first game to purely utilize the touch interface, it by far has to be one of the best executed. Horn is a must buy; get it at the App Store for $6.99.