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Horizon Riders - WiiWare Review

Game Info
Horizon Riders

WiiWare | Sabarasa | 1 Player | Out Now | 800 Nintendo Points
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote and Nunchuk; Balance Board
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21st November 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

While Protocol definitely had my vote for the game with the most potential, Sabarasa's first reveal of Horizon Riders caught my interest. Although comparisons were being made to Sin & Punishment, I personally didn't see the connection. I was just happy to see a game made with the Balance Board in mind, especially since it feels like it's been a long time since I last used the peripheral. But I think after my experience the game, I can safely say that Horizon Riders is a game that's probably best left observing from a distance.

    The game is split up into 12 missions amongst different themed environments. You assume the role of one of four different fighters and take on the responsibility of getting to the bottom of a problem plaguing the in-game world. With these four characters come different character-specific advantages, and here these advantages stem from the kinds of weapons that are used. All characters come equipped with a main and secondary gun with varying performance levels when it comes to power, speed, range, reticule size, and fire patterns. You won't spend lots of time bouncing back between the different characters, but if you do find yourself not making any progress in the game, then having someone else to fall back on is certainly an asset.

Starting out a new game, image-based cutscenes are used to introduce players to the main setting and present them with their overall goal. It's this simplistic way of conveying a throwaway plot that actually streams into the way the loading screens are presented. And even the graphics during gameplay, while decent, at times are dated and lacking in polish. 

    You'll begin in a standard-looking locale and make your way to a desert area, a swamp, and even a futuristic cityscape. Along the way, the game presents different musical styles to coincide with the overall feeling of the game. Apparently, Horizon Riders is best represented using rock and techno music, most of which sounds suitable yet lacking in impact. Coming to these conclusions from the very beginning didn't seem to bode well for the rest of the experience, but I pressed nonetheless.

    As I mentioned before, this game has been designed to take advantage of the Wii Balance Board. Horizon Riders is an on-rails light-gun shooter where forward movement is taken care of automatically and you only need to worry about moving left and right. This is mapped to the peripheral itself, where shifting your weight to either side will send your character in that direction on-screen. The Wii Remote is used to point the targeting reticule at the screen with the B Button serving as your fire button. Each character is equipped with two weapon types, and by moving the Nunchuk's Analog Stick left or right, you can switch between the two. To me, that was a little unnecessary as a simple button would've done the job. But anyway, that's the gist of the controls.

Because the game calibrates the device three times (center position and the two side leans), I barely had any problems when it came to using the Balance Board in this game. However, I have to admit the controls felt a bit sloppy at first, albeit I think this was more tied to the fact that the entire game gave off this impression, rather than just the lack of fluidity in character movements.

    If you were to switch off the Wii Balance Board and continue playing anyway, you'll quickly see why players are encouraged to actually use the device. With the peripheral off, you'll be required to strafe side-to-side by tilting the Wii Remote, which becomes an issue since you also need to aim and shoot at enemies on-screen. Seeing these motions transpire on screen is not fluid, and to have to do this in later levels when you're expected to aim with more speed is simply not fun. This game was clearly not meant to be played just with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. 

    So getting into gameplay, as players travel along clearly-marked trails towards the finish, different obstacles will start to appear. Principally these come in the form of spaceships that appear in front or off to the sides, but you also have yellow targets that focus on parts of the environment that you must navigate around or destroy. These include bombs that get thrown onto the track, barricades, and even parts of buildings. Typically, you'll need a strong weapon to eliminate these completely, which is where the game's level-up system comes in. You can gain experience points for each weapon you use as you shoot targets. Thankfully, the power levels carry with you as you move onto later stages, which serves as a means of rewarding you.

Horizon Riders adopts a strict ranking system, where accuracy and precision are rewarded at the conclusion of a run. Stringing combos together by defeating multiple enemies within a reasonable time window is really key here. Even despite your best efforts, the highest letter ranking you may see is a B. Likely this was done to encourage players to return to levels and improve their high-scores, but as you'll soon learn, there's little here that's worth experiencing a second or third time.

    The game also maintains an arcade focus that's clearly evident from the very beginning. From the Main Menu, you basically only get the standard play option and a high-score table, which says a lot right there. Furthermore, f you lose a life during gameplay, your weapons will be docked back two levels. Since later levels present so many more hazards to be wary of -- many of these requiring a maxed-out weapon to destroy -- it's usually difficult to pull yourself back up when you used the first stage as a means of building up those level-up points. If you get a Game Over and choose the Retry option, you'll instantly lose about 500,000 points and all your weapons will be set back to Level 1.

In terms of difficulty, things amp up pretty quickly after the first few areas. I did find myself feeling underwhelmed at the very beginning, in part because I kept feeling the on-rails movement could increase by one notch for better balance. Those initial feelings of boredom didn't last for long, though. By the fourth stage or so, I found my heart racing as I tried to keep up with everything. Once you reach about the halfway point, the amount of stuff happening at once becomes more annoying than fun. Thankfully, the motions aren't intense enough for you to get dizzy from playing, but there are instances where the camera can make playing with your feet and looking at the screen a bit disorienting.

    Once again, it can be frustrating to deal with tons of targets simultaneously if you lose a life at the wrong moment and your weapon levels get reset. There are unexpected health pick-ups that help minimize the frequency with which it comes out, but I wouldn't be so lenient as to say the frustration levels are minimal. Because in all honesty, seeing the Game Over screen in this game (at least in the later levels) feels like a crushing defeat, to the point that players will lack motivation to continue. And that's a big problem.

Of the 12 missions featured in this game, three of those consist of boss fights. Now right away, you can imagine that in a game where movement control is set to the Wii Balance Board, any kind of imbalance with these kinds of missions would be quickly evident. This means, then, that for boss fights to work in a situation like this, the developers would have had to go to significant lengths to make sure they worked well. Sadly, the bosses in this game fall flat.

    One problem that plagues the boss fights is that they are often demanding. More than just that, though, they even appear brash in trying to be difficult just because the developers had the ability to make them that way. It's unreasonable to suggest players need to make really subtle movements to dodge scattered enemy fire given the control scheme you're admonished to use. Second of all, they're just not designed very well. With the second boss, for example, there was one point where left and right movements were actually treated as forward and backward responses. But my discrepancy with that is, why would you want to move CLOSER to a series of turrets (even if it is to dodge a homing shot)? Once again, this goes back to the sloppiness I alluded to earlier; sadly, this game doesn't shake that feeling as you move forward.

    While the frustration in this game varies with each level you visit, the boss fights cast a dark shadow over the game, nearly squashing any kind of fun you might have had up to that point. If you can tough it out and make it to the final boss, you'll already have been exposed to the unbalanced nature of the game. But it's this final boss fight that really seals the deal, unwittingly serving as a perfect example of the aforementioned sub-par boss designs, the overall frustration level throughout the experience and the lack of worth in going through this game again after completion. 

Let me paint the picture for you: Not only are you fighting against the main entity in the center of a donut-shaped arena, but you also have fighter planes and turrets firing at you from multiple angles -- even from behind. Additionally, dealing some real damage to the boss' health meter takes a long time, which may not be such a problem if you weren't trying to dodge everything else at the same time. Although some minor slowdown did exist in the second boss, the framerate reductions here get pretty bad as you get closer to finishing him off. And what I find ironic is that the game has trouble keeping up with the barrage of enemy fire. How did the developers expect you to deal with it, and while on a Balance Board no less! 

    I could not believe how ridiculous this boss fight was, and to say it was upsetting would be an understatement. It shouldn't surprise you to hear that after failing this mission multiple times, I decided to avoid playing this game again. And it's not like the game was all rosey up until that point either. The final boss was simply the last straw for me when you consider the amount of frustration that existed prior to this point in the game. 

The bulk of the adventure lasts around two hours with no extra content to speak of. Part of that does depend on how patient you are to plow through everything. Once again, the local leaderboards do show off your best scores across the entire 12-stage journey, but I'm pretty sure you won't want to return if you manage to get through the game even once. If it weren't for all these flaws, I wouldn't have a problem with the $8 price tag. But as is, I would recommend spending your points elsewhere.

    I'm not sure why so many kept comparing Horizon Riders to Sin & Punishment prior to the game's release. The pace, style, look, as well as the systems present in both games are quite different; in all respects, Horizon Riders is clearly inferior. Lacking in polish and balanced gameplay, Horizon Riders may seem like a fun ride when in actuality, its flaws make it a real chore to get through. 

15/30 - Below Average

Gameplay 6/10 - Controls well for the most part, enemy and environment-based targets, boss fights aren't designed well, rewarding level-up system
Presentation 5/10 - Average visuals, basic presentation with cutscenes and mission briefings, suitable music, significant slowdown during the final boss
Enjoyment 2/5 - Frustration builds without letup even towards the end, won't want to come back a second time, lack of balance gets to be irritating
Extra Content 2/5 - High scores don't motivate, multiple characters with different weapon types, strict ranking system, flaws make it not worth paying for

Equivalent to a score of 50% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Horizon Riders
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