Horizon Shift ’81 is definitely the type of game where you’ll sit down to play a few rounds, and then before you know it, you’ve been playing for an hour. Horizon Shift 81’ succeeds in many of the areas where other retro-style games fall short. It has some modern elements, but for the most part, you’ll feel like you’re playing straight from an old school arcade cabinet. As a retro shooter, the game is designed to be pure gameplay and excitement. It doesn’t have any real story for the player to uncover, your main goal is to stack up the highest possible score you can in any given run.
The gameplay of Horizon Shift ’81 in a general sense is nothing we haven’t seen before, but there are some interesting twists on the classic arcade shooter formula that allow the game to have its own unique identity. There are several different gameplay modes, such as Arcade Classic and Speed Up, although here I’m mainly referring to the Horizon, a simple white platform that spans the centre of the screen. All of the player’s movements within the game occur on this Horizon. You can move left and right along its length, as well as shift between the top and bottom of platform. The player also has the ability to jump as well as dash, the latter having a brief cooldown. Combine this with the ability to shoot a vast variety of different bullet types, and you have the complete list of base available options for the player.
All of this seems fairly simple to understand; however, the inclusion of a bullet hell gameplay style adds so much more. These simplistic mechanics will need to be mastered by the player in order to survive the seemingly endless onslaught of enemy bullets constantly flying across the screen. The gameplay takes a while to get used to, and there is a definite learning curve involved. Thankfully, there’s a great balance of power-ups, such as double jump and extra turrets to give the player a fighting chance, but don’t go in expecting it to be easy. This gets taken to a whole other level in the boss fights throughout the game: giant enemies who barrage the player with spectacular, colourful projectiles. It’ll take consistent focus and attention to weave in and out of the unforgiving waves of enemy attacks. There are also bonus levels that change up the pace of the game and add something a little different for the player; for example, my favourite one took inspiration from Brick Breaker.
To speak a bit about the visual options found in the game, they’re quite simple. You can change the intensity of the game’s glow effect, which I’m grateful for as I felt sometimes the glow effects could be a bit hard on the eyes. There is also the ability to modify the CRT effect, having it with or without scanlines, or turning it off completely. The screen can also be rotated for those who have a vertical monitor setup, which is a nice inclusion. Finally, you can also change the background, as well as change the sidebar visuals or turn them off completely.
One part of the game that really surprised me regarding how much I enjoyed it was the music. The music in this game is so upbeat and just really motivating. It suits the gameplay perfectly, and it gets increasingly more fast-paced and wild as you progress through the game, with various instruments being introduced. My one complaint regarding sound design is that the enemies in the game make minimal sounds other than the pop of your bullets hitting them. I believe it’s an oversight that really could have added that extra something to the game.
Developer: Flump Studios
Publisher: Funbox Mediua Ltd
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 11th June 2019