Horgihugh And Friends / HORGIHUGH (ホーギーヒュー)
The Dogs Of War...Literally.
It seems like I've opened Pandora's Box beginning with Cotton Fantasy and what would follow the English translation for Harmful Park. While I'm no stranger to the shoot-em-up genre, cute-em-ups have always been a niche category until recently. Horgihugh And Friends, or HORGIHUGH in Japan, is another one to add to the cute factor and it shows the dark side of the genre.
Moments after the player boots the game up, the premise discusses the aftermath of a world war. There are those who wish not to fight the war as they wish not to fight against others for being different. There are a lot of real-life threads thrown at the player yet with the imagery of cute animals. It's like Animal Farm but "anime" instead.
This Probably Could Have Been Avoided, In Hindsight
Anyways, there's a professor who was building a peaceful way to end the war and he does this by stumbling across alien technology. This alien technology has the power to subdue and disable volatile weapons to force various nations into a stalemate. Unfortunately, the professor's timing is a bit lacking as not only did the war end prematurely, but the artifact attracted the attention of said aliens.
With the aliens now invading Earth and the "world police" disabling everyone's weapons, humanity (animal-ity?) now rest in the hands of the same pilots who didn't want to engage in war, to begin with. Irony at its finest. My gripe is that had the doctor not tried to use alien technology to prevent global war, the intergalactic threat that happened after would have been avoided. I understand he was trying his best to do his part, but surely he would have known the risk that was involved, right?
Time To Save The Town And Then The World
No, he didn't. Now there's an alien threat that no one with valid weaponry can defend against. I suppose realizing this, he becomes your biggest asset in Horgihugh And Friends. Occasionally, he gives the players power-up items and he even sets up shop, allowing the player to buy upgrades and bonus lives.
You're going to need every single one of them. Matter of fact, it'll be best to set the number of lives to its highest. Even lower the difficulty to "Easy," who cares? No one is going to laugh at you and it may just be warranted. Horgihugh And Friends is relentless and unforgiving. Don't let the inviting cutesy visuals fool you.
Even A Panda Bear Is Deadly (Pandas Are Cute, That's The Comparison)
At its core the difficulty is on par with Harmful Park but it's far "barebones" comparatively. It's a two-button shooter (that turns into four once the player gains access to their partner) with one button for shooting and the other for evasion. There's a blue bar located next to a yellow bar and the former gives Horgi the ability to somersault.
Somersaulting allows the player to avoid damage for a reasonable time frame at the cost of a cooldown time. The yellow bar prevents the player from crashing should they get hit by an enemy. It's not automatic as the player needs to wiggle the analog stick and mash the buttons to recover.
"I Swear I Mashed!!!"
I never got past the early stages in Horgihugh And Friends because of this mechanic. Depending on how high your altitude is, recovery ranges from "decent" to "impossible" the lower you are to the ground. Unfortunately, some enemies will require the player to remain low as they attack from below. While the bullet patterns aren't difficult to avoid, sometimes the enemies take up most of the screen. This can be mitigated with trial and error. After all, if you lose all your lives you can just continue where you left off like games such as Rolling Gunner, right?
Well, sad to say if you get a Game Over you have to start from the beginning of the level. This takes one of the criticisms I had about Harmful Park and elevates it because the stages themselves aren't difficult. At worse, it's like watching paint dry only to reach the boss, die to the same mechanics again, and repeat all over again. I'd prefer if you lost all your lives to the boss, you'd retry the fight from the boss. The levels aren't long, but having to redo up to three minutes of a stage just to constantly die can get stressful.
Horgihugh Is A Roguelike Cute-Em-Up!
It wasn't until I took advantage of Eterday that I realized there are items that greatly alter the gameplay to make it easier. Eterday is a bonus mode that unlocks upon completing a stage, which acts as the game's "city simulator." There's no need to worry about resources and management, mind, you use the points you've accumulated when you reached the "Game Over" screen. These points are used to rebuild the town, including paved roads and shops.
One of the shops that unlock early gives players amazing perks including starting each level armed to the teeth. There's also a perk that automatically allows the player to somersault provided there's meter for it. The beneficial items cost the most, meaning sometimes the player will have to farm levels to get that one item that will save their skin. Horgihugh is a difficult game, but at least the devs took steps to make the pain hurt a little less.
While I quickly accepted that this isn't my cup of tea, I was intrigued by how mature the content was for a game with such adorable visuals. It's a game meant to be played by all ages, but with a plot and premise that one would see from a "Teen" rated game. For the shoot-em-up aficionados, this one is for yall. It was an interesting experience and I hope it does well overall!
Horgihugh and Friends is available on the Nintendo Switch and PC.