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Game Info:

Harold
Developed By: Moon Spider Studio
Published By: Moon Spider Studio
Released: February 12, 2015
Available On: PC (via Steam)
Genre: 2D Racing Platformer|
ESRB Rating: Not Rated
Number of Players: Single player
Price: $19.99

Thank you Moon Spider Studio for sending us this game to review!

Gabe is an expert prankster and angel in training at Guardian School. He is very gifted such that learning comes easy for him; he has never had to study or work hard yet. Seraphiel Malakh (Sera for short) is a student as well but also the daughter of guardian angel Raziel, the school's most prized family. It's the end of the school year and the final exam is at hand. The test is to protect and aid human runners in a series of races. The student with the highest GPA will earn a scholarship to Archangel Academy. Since Gabe is already head of the class, he only needs to finish 3rd to get the scholarship. That's no problem for Gabe. He's got this scholarship in the bag. As the students are paired with their humans, there's a slight glitch in the system. At first it looks like Gabe's getting the bodybuilder but no! He gets Harold, the skinny weakling who wears thick glasses. The other students realize they now have a chance and ridicule Gabe and Harold. Gabe understands that he needs to put some effort into this now and vows to get that scholarship.

Harold is a single player 2D side-scrolling racing platformer puzzle game where you play as Gabe the angel who controls Harold the human in a series of increasingly challenging races. While most racing games have you directly control the racer, your only real control of Harold is his jumping ability. The majority of the control is manipulating the obstacle course for each race. This is accomplished by the means of interacting with movable ramps, platforms, bridges, swinging on ropes or vines, and controlling simple mechanisms. 

Scattered throughout each course are wingrings. Two wingrings charge a whole puff power. A puff power is used to strike lightning on Harold to encourage him to briefly run faster, as he runs much slower than the other racers. Puff powers also serve as an extra life. These can be lost by mistiming obstacles whereupon Harold will vanish in a puff a smoke only to reappear at the end of the section. Thus running out of all puff powers during a race means game over. 

Harold
Highlights:

Strong Points: Wonderful cartoon-like animation, fun & engaging soundtrack, unique gameplay, interesting story, 3 game modes
Weak Points: Game modes need to be unlocked for each race, increasingly challenging, controller only
Moral Warnings: Stereotype and ridicule of those who are different, authority angel justifies sabotaging of obstacle course, jealousy, partial nudity

To unlock each race, passing the practice session is required. This is for good reason. Each session introduces a new set of obstacles that must be learned in order to prepare for the actual race. Stars are also earned in these practice sessions based on time. Collecting all the stars yields a bonus puff power at the beginning of the race. Early in the game, you gain the ability to interfere with the other racers in order to help Harold get ahead. While interference follows the same manipulation techniques, timing is important such that Harold is the only racer who gains the advantage. Later on you also acquire the ability of foresight. Foresight allows you to "look ahead" as the screen advances one frame. By the use of interference here, you sabotage the obstacle course to cause the other racers to stumble thus slowing them down. A successful interference on a racer acts the same as gaining a wingring; it charges a puff power. There is a hidden shortcut in each race. Discovering the shortcut quickly propels Harold ahead of the pack, which is a great advantage since he always begins in last place. A challenge mode is unlocked after each race as well. Here Harold runs fast through the entire course collecting stars. There are no puff powers in this mode. Any mistiming where Harold fails results in retrying the entire race again. 

The tutorial teaches how to play the game using the controller. Mastering just when to time manipulating the environment, however, may take a lot of practice. Although Harold only needs to finish 3rd to advance, it is where he ends up most of the time anyways due to the difficulty. Even on one frame, multiple things can be happening at once where it depends on the player to set each obstacle as an advantage for Harold. When everything works, the game plays like a cartoon with all things occurring right after another, but getting there takes quick thinking on the controls and coordination to pull it off successfully. Continued frustrations will eventually take its toll on the player especially when you run out of puff powers and have to start the race over or finish out of contention. While some players may enjoy having to retry races over and over again, others may lose patience quickly. 

The music is very positive and upbeat. The developers call it gospel music due to the background choir. There are a lot of chants encouraging Harold to keep running and not give up. Since there are four different themes to the 12 different races, the music changes accordingly. The soundtrack reminded me of a Disney movie. I applaud the composer. This is one of the better soundtracks to a game I've heard. The sound effects have a cartoon quality and are funny.

Harold
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 72%
Gameplay - 10/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 3/5

Morality Score - 69%
Violence - 5/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 6/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

Graphically the game looks impressive yet whimsical. Animations are hand-drawn, which reminded me of the classic Looney Tunes cartoons I used to watch as a kid. The action is fast-paced as Harold is always running. Races are themed to a jungle, desert, arctic, or beach backdrop. Within each frame there is a lot to see. First there is Harold and the other racers, then the obstacles that require interaction, then the environment itself. My only issue with this is the racers themselves. Since there is so much happening at once, the frames are zoomed out making the racers very small in detail. It is beneficial to have a larger monitor. 

Out of the six racers, five are male and one is female. Each racer is drawn as a caricature. There's the short military looking man, the bodybuilder, the dancer, the tall athlete, and the stocky everyday man. Then there's Harold who stands out the most. From the wild red hair, to the large thick glasses, to the skinny legs, every detail about him is greatly exaggerated. Harold is drawn to look weak and should have no business being in a race. Although the ultimate underdog, I took great issue with the way he is portrayed. In one of the game's trailers, Harold is called, "slower, shorter, and dumber." A small cutscene accompanies each race featuring Harold. In several, he is portrayed as observant, humble and a man of good sportsmanship. He is ridiculed by the student angels as well as those in authority. Whatever the look may be of someone, it's really the character that counts. 

Another issue I took with the game is the premise. As previously discussed, the story is about the student angel Gabe attempting to get the scholarship to Archangel Academy. Sera's father, Raziel is a guardian angel and former top student. He takes a liking to Gabe and teaches him the interference technique. Raziel states that the act of interfering with other racers is warranted and welcomed. Although Sera has her own shortcomings in taking shortcuts, her father Raziel takes Gabe under his wing, infuriating her even more. While I won't spoil the rest of the story, I must state that these are "angels" who act more like humans.

For a game that has an excellent soundtrack and fabulous graphics, it's a shame that the entire premise is based on stereotypical judgment of others who are different as well as a belief that angels are allowed to misbehave. Angels are holy representatives of God. It is insulting that the game lowers them to our human level while insinuating they are here to guide and protect us. In fact the only angels I know who acted inappropriately were banished from Heaven and sent to Hell. Although it is a light-hearted game that looks kid-friendly, looks can be deceiving since it reinforces negative stereotypes and sends the wrong message. As a Christian who wears glasses and has been teased, I found many aspects of the game offensive. I presume Guardian School never taught these student angels ethics or morals. You need to question what exactly these angels were taught that warrants them to behave badly. Angels should never act in this manner and neither should humans in real life. 

 

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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