Thursday, February 13, 2014

Horror Story

Toaplan / NEC Avenue
Super CD-ROM

As a fan of this horror-themed, dash-and-blast platformer, I typically wave off word of its reputation for mediocrity, reasoning that its detractors are likely the sorts who are unwilling to take up a good challenge or unable to figure out that a double-jump is at their disposal. But even I must concede that the title does itself no favors with its visuals, as it employs sprites that are frequently too goofy to be appealing even in a kitschy sense and has a fuzzy, all-too-simplistic look about it in general.

And while I was able to become accustomed to the feel of the action fairly quickly, I cannot claim that the game plays wonderfully. The aforementioned double-jump is executed in an odd manner, and turning on a dime is out of the question for your stiff, often-surrounded-and-always-outnumbered avatar.

Players are forced to subscribe to a "die repeatedly and learn from your errors" philosophy, as enemy patterns are often too aberrant and level layouts too trap laden to advance in any other way, but some missteps reveal little except the immediately obvious fact that the controls are far from perfect.

As Horror Story is a platformer of the forced-scrolling sort, those who brave it may proceed only at a pace dictated by the title itself. It's unfortunate for the unskilled and easily discouraged, then, that the game never seems to be in any hurry to get anywhere. Strips are revealed bit by minuscule bit as speedy enemies soar through the air, scurry along the turf, and even emerge from the backdrops.

Thankfully, HS does provide tools and techniques that can enable dedicated players to overcome the challenges presented by their foes and surroundings. Missiles, lasers, bombs, and three-way shots are among the monster-massacring long-range attack-types at your disposal. Many enemies can also be demolished in Super Mario-esque bop-on-the-cranium fashion, and a shield can be acquired to give the hero a fighting chance at survival.

Those who put in the time to get a handle on the available offensive options will live long enough and proceed far enough to notice and appreciate the cleverness that consistently marks the game's level designs. Forks in the road of the "low-or-high" variety provide opportunities for experimentation, while tricky platforming segments demand both keen thought and sharp reflexes. Even the means by which you can advance from one point to the next are occasionally atypical, with successions of wafting balloons, drifting boats, and reaper-heisted coffins acting here and there as de facto bridges to level ends.

And while they don't call for extreme contemplation, most of the boss battles do ask that you devise clever methods for getting through them. The final fight in particular is enjoyable, as it demands that you make quick, timely leaps while you take to the offensive.

A lively soundtrack adds a little spirit to the affair, which can prove very rewarding if you're willing to forgive the title its often-unappealing visuals and far-from-superlative gameplay.

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