Horizon Shift ‘81 is a love letter to classic arcade shoot ‘em ups, recreating that feeling of walking up to an arcade machine for the very first time, but with modern twists to pull it into the 21st century. It may not look like much at first, but Horizon Shift ‘81 is a breath of fresh air to a genre that can often grow stale.
Horizon Shift ‘81 takes retro shoot ‘em ups and puts a unique spin on it. Your ship is tethered to the horizon (the line in the middle) and you need to defend it and yourself from enemies and projectiles that come your way. The challenging part is that the enemies will come at you from both the top and the bottom of the screen. So you need to flip between both sides. If an enemy clings onto the horizon, you’ll need to dash into it in order to destroy it or you can jump over it to avoid it – line up a few enemies in one dash for multiplier bonuses. Asteroids and certain enemies can also come and temporarily break a section of the horizon limiting your movement for a short amount of time. Later in the game, the horizon will move up and down, forcing you to rethink your strategy. Lastly, you can use a bomb to destroy every enemy on the screen, but you’ll need to fill up the meter by collecting power-ups and points in order to use it. These unique gameplay mechanics make Horizon Shift ‘81 a tremendously engaging arcade experience.
Each stage takes roughly 1-2 minutes to complete, with new enemies and new variations. After five stages, a boss fight will occur and you’ll activate a checkpoint. Each boss fight requires you to utilise all of your abilities, however we found them to be easier than the regular stages. The game has 36 stages in total, making the game a comfortable length for a retro arcade game; or, it would have been if not for the absolutely brutal difficulty spike at stage 25. I personally have to admit that shoot ‘em ups are not my genre of choice, but I do have a respectable level of competence. That being said, some levels require pixel perfect accuracy, and looking at both sides at once during these stages is incredibly overwhelming. This may well be a good thing for seasoned veterans, but most gamers will probably give up in frustration. This could also be a case of myself needing to ‘git gud’. However, it was here when we tried to change the difficulty to easy, and yet there was no noticeable difference to the gameplay. We’re not sure whether this is a bug or not, but it was certainly odd.
There are a few Bonus Stages sprinkled throughout the game in the form of Breakout levels. If completed, these levels give bonuses before a boss fight. The mixing up of the gameplay, and the addition of such an iconic retro classic, will simply put a smile on any gamer’s face.
Despite Horizon Shift ‘81 being an incredibly engaging game, it would have greatly benefited from more emphasis on its tactile feedback. With the various movements, exploding bombs and shifting directions, the experience could have been greatly enhanced with HD Rumble. For now, it just stands as a missed opportunity. The controllers only seem to rumble when you either get hit or when an asteroid crashes into the horizon.
Horizon Shift ‘81 wouldn’t be a love letter to classic retro shoot ‘em ups without the ability to flip the screen to portrait mode, and Flump Studios didn’t disappoint. When playing in TV mode, there is simply a frame on either side. However in handheld and tabletop mode, you can recreate that classic arcade experience. Flump Studios even highlighted that Horizon Shift ‘81 works ideally with Fangamers’ Flip Grip that allows you to play the game longways in handheld mode or be able to stand it up safely in tabletop mode. This is how we played through Horizon Shift ‘81 and we couldn’t agree more!
Shifting up and down along the horizon line is quick and snappy as you need to quickly deal with both sides, however the analogue stick on modern controllers can result in accidental shifts and deaths. Whilst this in not the fault of Horizon Shift ‘81, it can still be frustrating, nonetheless. The hit-box detection is perfect, which could have easily made Horizon Shift ‘81 a deal breaker. Considering how hectic the game can get with multiple projectiles on screen at once, the spot on hit detection eliminates unwarranted deaths. The frame-rate also runs consistently smooth, again reinforcing that Horizon Shift ‘81 requires nothing but practice and skill.
Graphics / Art Direction
Horizon Shift ‘81’s artstyle is clean and simplistic, paying homage to a long gone era in gaming. Where this game mixes its presentation up is in its filters, allowing you to choose from a clean modern look to grainy CT screens with horizontal lines. For the best experience, the modern look is the clear winner, but the effort is a nice touch. The sprites are easy to distinguish from from one another, which makes the hectic gameplay accurate and smooth.
The background creates a neat 3D motif, giving it the effect that developers were hoping for in the early 80s. Flump Studios also added lines in the background underlay, allowing the player to have a better understanding of their position on the screen. These added touches may be small, but it just goes to show the passion that has gone into making this game.
Music / Sound Design
Horizon Shift ‘81’s music and sound design can be summed up in two words: aggressively mediocre. By this, we mean that the game’s music isn’t inherently bad, nor does it stand out as anything special. It simply plays its role adequately, mixing things up from each five stage bundle to the next. The sound effects are also average, and we probably would’ve preferred a few more bleeps and bloops to further recreate the arcade experience in the early 80s.
Final Score: 77%
If you’re a fan of retro arcade shooters, or simply own a Flip Grip and want a great game to play on it with, then Horizon Shift ‘81 is a must buy! This game has clear intentions on what it wants to be and it transcends in its simplicity. The horizon mechanic brings forth a style of gameplay that’s never been done before (to my knowledge), and it executes it perfectly. However, the lacking in tactile feedback is a little disappointing as it makes the game feel hollow and the harsh difficulty spike may lead to a few controllers being thrown (maybe play it in TV Mode from Stage 25 onwards). You have been warned!
Will you be picking up Horizon Shift ’81? Let us know in the Comments section below.
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