From the moment you start playing Harold it is hard not to be charmed. The Saturday morning cartoon presentation and playful mechanics invite you to dive into its whimsical world, but it's only once you are in that you realize how fiendishly difficult this little auto-runner becomes.
On a mission for God
It isn't even a gentle introduction. You take control of a young angel Gabriel, trying to earn a scholarship to Archangel College. While you are heaven's star student, to achieve this goal you still need to help a mortal win a race (or at least come third). Unfortunately you draw Harold, a man of limited athletic talents.
Donning your halo, it's time to start learning the basics. What Harold lacks in skill he makes up for in determination, as he happily plows through any dangers in his path. This leaves you using your angelic powers to save him from harm.
Your most direct influence over Harold is to make him jump. This avoids many of the more obvious pitfalls (often literally) that litter his path to the finish line. Things quickly get more complicated, however, as you have to alter the world around your runner if he is to have any chance. Manipulating platforms, smashing obstacles, and a host of other actions must be carefully chained together to shepherd Harold to his goal.
It may look simple, but once the game has you jumping Harold onto a raft that you are moving into place to catch him, before swinging him from a rope to reach an elevator that you are also controlling so he can avoid falling into a pit of spikes, it becomes quite mind boggling. It demands speed, dexterity, and the ability to rub your head and pat your stomach without any dip in cognitive function.
Hand of the Lord
To balance this complexity out a little, Harold (the game) is tutorial heavy. Before entering any of the races, you practice every step of the journey with Gabriel. While these are framed as challenges in which you have to collect three stars, they are really there to slow down the pace of the game.
Fortunately, when the actual race rolls around, the addition of other competitors adds a little more to the action. As well as manipulating the environment to help Harold, you can also use it to sabotage the opposition and gain an advantage.
My personal favorite of these is the snare trap. This you must wind back just enough to not snap it, before unleashing it on a passing runner. Get the tension right and the unfortunate competitor is comically pounded repeatedly into the ground, losing valuable time. It's a fun extra that the almost Asterix like characters and animation really highlight.
While the auto-running genre may have becoming a little tired, Harold sidesteps this issue by adding interesting mechanical twists, a dash of humor, and a whole lot of polish. If you have any love for the genre, this blend of twitch puzzler and runner is a heavenly treat.