Horgihugh and Friends Review: Flying the Furry Skies
I’ve played plenty of Shmups, but very few quite like Horgihugh and Friends. It’s the tale of an alternate Earth beset by dangerous alien invaders. The only people that can stop them are two furry pilots, Horgihugh the dog and Figaro the cat. Piloting archaic aircraft that’s immune to the alien technology, they set off in the hopes of stopping this unexpected invasion. The question this Horgihugh and Friends review will answer is whether this updated version of the original is worth your time and money, or whether it’s better just to play Horgihugh on Steam.
My first question about Horgihugh and Friends was how the developer came up with the inspiration for animal pilots. I assumed it was just some fanciful whim, but it turns out it’s directly based on real-world events. Most notably, how in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, many animals were displaced amidst the other crises. So the use of dogs and cats in the game is actually pretty emotional and very heartwarming. You can read the details yourself right here.
Now, while the story behind the game is very engaging, I can’t say the same about the plot in Horgihugh and Friends. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s incomprehensible, but it’s very meandering and unnecessarily complex. There’s some vague incident that sparks off a world war, which is then quickly ended. Afterward, a professor discovers alien tech and starts analyzing it, only to give up right before a full-blown alien invasion by the Gozareans occurs. There’s also something about the aliens rendering modern tech inoperable, which is why Horgihugh and Figaro are piloting vintage fighter planes. And there’s also an unexpected revelation at the end of the game that nevertheless fell somewhat flat. Thankfully, I don’t usually play a Shmup for the plot, and the gameplay is indeed quite solid here.
Shmup Your Way to Success
Horgihugh and Friends is split into several stages, many of which also have well-hidden alternate routes. I only discovered one of those in a snowy area late in the game, but was assured there are others. Each stage is full of waves of alien attackers and plenty of hazards you’ll have to avoid. The game really likes to put debris in your way regularly, so you’ll have to fly around wildly not to crash into it all. As for the foes, most minor enemies can be destroyed with a single hit, though the larger enemies will eat up a ton of bullets before giving up the ghost.
In each stage, you’ll encounter the trusty Professor Howard in several different areas. He’ll fly by and toss medals at you. By catching them, you’ll upgrade your plane level. Each upgrade will make you progressively more powerful, first boosting your shot power, then activating missiles and bombs, and eventually summoning your pal Figaro. He’ll fly ahead of you and essentially double your damage output, but you can also tilt him to shoot things behind you. As you play, a meter will fill up, and once it’s flashing blue, you can perform a somersault with A. This has Horgihugh spin around, making him temporarily invincible and also drawing all gems towards him. It’s really handy, but the wait time to perform them means you can’t keep doing them in succession. So timing is key, as is memorizing the stage layouts.
You can also recover from contact with the enemy if your yellow meter is full and you mash buttons fast enough as you plummet to your doom. It’s hard to do, but it can save you an unnecessary death once you get the hang of it. Also, as if Professor Howard wasn’t helpful enough, his blimp will fly by several times in each stage. There you can pay with gems to upgrade your armament. You can also tweak where your missiles target (front, back, down, etc.) and change your bomb type. You can even buy extra lives and shields for your plane. So long as you have enough money, there’s no limit to what you can buy, other than not being able to have more than one type of equipment active at a time.
Bossy Alien Baddies
Like any good Shmup, Horgihugh and Friends has some amazing and screen-filling boss battles. You’ll fight everything from robotic menaces to gigantic flowers and even angry geckos and pumpkin monsters. The variety is fantastic, and each boss will have you quickly learning patterns and exploiting them to your advantage. My only minor complaint is that the bosses love to crowd you, and sometimes I would lose just because I let them get too close. Otherwise, the boss battles are a true highlight of the experience.
Pimp Your Plane
The neatest new feature in the game is Eterday, the city of hope. You’re trying to build the town back to prosperity, so you’ll need to funnel tons of gems their way. Doing so is well worth your time, however. You’ll eventually build several facilities. These will let you adjust features to your tastes, and even allows you to change the default shot type of your plane. I enjoyed effects like doubling the number of gems I received and even having the somersault auto-activate. As for new weapon types, there’s a laser, a 7-way spread, and more. If that wasn’t enough, you can also unlock a music test and a stunning gallery in Eterday. This all really makes the game more forgiving, for the low price of grinding through stages a bit until you’ve unlocked more facilities. It helps keep the game more balanced and approachable for those who aren’t hardcore Shmup fans, which I appreciated.
Protect Your Doggo and Friendo
You wouldn’t know it from the cutesy aesthetic, but Horgihugh and Friends can be surprisingly difficult. While the Eterday mode helps ameliorate this, the game can and will kick your ass if you’re not careful, usually because of how easy it is to crash into hazards, but also because of aggressive enemy waves. Also, there’s an enemy I call the Bastard Egg, which was probably the source of most of my deaths. It likes to pop up behind you, jumps around randomly, and usually collides with your plane before you’re able to hit it. All I can say is be patient and use Eterday to double your gems as soon as possible. It makes it much easier to grind your way to an easier game experience. Or you can always play as Figaro instead, who’s essentially the easy mode of the game.
Iconic Visual Flair
Visually, Horgihugh and Friends is wonderful. The style reminds me of old-school anime, and it definitely has a distinct classic SEGA aesthetic. My only minor complaint in this regard is how dialogue will often pop up on the bottom of the screen, obscuring and distracting from the beautiful stages. Musically the entire game is upbeat and uplifting, with several catchy soundtracks. Overall, it’s a charming and beautiful game experience.
Some Room For Improvement
I enjoyed most of my time with Horgihugh and Friends, but I did encounter some issues that kept it from a higher score. One is that, as a fan of the Shmup genre, I like a distinct visual cue telling me when I’m hitting something. This isn’t an issue for smaller enemies, but it is for bosses. They don’t flash or anything when hit. Instead, you have to listen carefully to ascertain if your bullets are hitting their weak points. Also, while Eterday really is a great new feature, there’s a small issue. Your settings there will have to be reset before every run, at least if you don’t play the game in one continuous outing. Lastly, while the game runs really well on Switch, I encountered serious slowdown in the second to last stage. It’s a whole level of boss rush, and a few bosses in Horgihugh was chugging along. He was moving so slowly that when he got hit and downed, it took a good 10 seconds for him to crash to his death. Usually, this takes a second or two. Other than these issues, it’s a really grand time.
A Charming Ride Through the Skies
As someone that was curious about the first iteration of the game, I’m happy to have reviewed Horgihugh and Friends. It’s easily the definitive edition of the game, a charming and challenging Shmup that is well balanced and forgiving to newer players. While boss battles are the highlight, you’ll still have a lot of fun blasting your way through the Gozarean hordes—a game I can easily recommend to fans of the genre.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC; Publisher: Aksys Games; Developer: PiXEL; Players: 1; Released: June 16, 2022; ESRB: Everyone 10+ – Fantasy Violence; MSRP: $29.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.