This week a shrink-wrapped, unopened copy of Horace and the Spiders sold on eBay for £28, while a similarly mint Hungry Horace sold for £18. This prompted me to celebrate one of gaming’s earliest recurring characters - Horace!
Horace was a slightly scary looking figure who was brought to the Spectrum in 1982 by Psion - a company who are still going (though I doubt we’ll see Horace Goes Social Networking any time soon). He originally starred in three games on the Speccy. Let’s remind ourselves…
The first outing is a slightly surreal Pacman clone. Horace wanders around ‘a park’ collecting small green asterisks (litter?) whilst avoiding the giant floating heads of park keepers. It consists of four screens which repeat if you are lucky enough to get to the end.
Hungy Horace is a fun game, and it might possibly be the first Speccy game I ever played (at a friend’s house on a monochrome tv). It’s still quite addictive even though the third and fourth screens are blatantly unfair if the game decides to spawn additional park keepers at points that block every escape route.
The title screen is particularly memorable, it’s like some sort of acid trip that’s designed to hypnotise you into playing again.
Horace goes Skiing
The second outing is a bizarre Frogger clone, mixed with skiing. Seems like an obvious combination doesn’t it! Horace crosses the busy road to get his skis, and returns. If he makes it, he can then go skiing. If he gets run over or breaks his skis, then he loses some cash and has to cross the road again. The game ends when he runs out of cash. Sorry - no money, no ski!
This is my favourite of the original Horace games - it offers two distinctive and achievable challenges, both of which are great fun. A common irony is that the vehicle that most frequently thwarts our hero’s road-crossing is none other than an ambulance!
The title screen is once again very 'trippy’ and slightly odd.
Horace and the Spiders
The last of the original trilogy is a three stage platform game. Armed with special antidote serum, Horace has to prove his jumping skills by running up a hill, avoiding a spider or two. Once completed (this takes a mere few seconds), he then enters what appears to be a spider cave and first has to jump across a chasm, using the webs. Once in the cave, he must dispatch the spiders by making them fall into holes in their webs (he then jumps on them). Why does he do this? The spiders are just minding their own business in their cave!
This game has a bit more atmosphere than the earlier games, but is slightly marred by fussy collision detection during the run up the hill. The third 'cave’ stage is the better element. Still a fun game though.
Are there trippy titles again? You bet! And this time they have spiders’ webs. One oddity though - according to the title, the game is called Horace and the Spider. Did they miscalculate and run out of space?
In 2010, Horace made the first of two surprise returns, as Bob Smith brought us Horace in the Mystic Woods. At first glance it’s a tribute, but according to World of Spectrum it’s a genuine entry in the Horace saga that was never converted. More info here.
In 2011, the Mojon Twins reunited Horace with his spiders in Horace Goes to the Tower. You can download it at World of Spectrum.
Will Horace return? Only time will tell…