Review: Horizon Riders (WiiWare)

Well balanced?

Horizon Riders is definitely a Wii-exclusive experience. A game that makes use of both the Balance Board and Wii Zapper, Sabarasa's on-rails shooter is tailor-made for the console. If you are one of the millions that bought Wii Fit, consider yourself in for a treat, as the game makes good use of the peripheral and really shouldn't be played any other way. Those who don't own the peripheral however may want to approach this game with caution.

The main job of the Balance Board is to control your movement left and right. Much like Sin and Punishment: Star Successor, the game employs a third-person perspective that allows you to move about the screen to dodge objects and projectiles. You cannot move up and down though, but you can jump, activated by swinging up the Wii Remote. Whipping up the controller messes with your shooting a bit, as you have to point the Wii Remote at the screen to aim. It isn't too hard to steady yourself afterwards, but the option to jump with a button wouldn't have hurt.

Levels follow a predetermined line, allowing you to look ahead and anticipate upcoming enemies and obstacles. Aside from the various enemy types, you'll also take a lot of damage from crashing into things, so steering and level memorisation are a vital part of the game.

On the Balance Board, the game responds well, but may lack the precision some shooter fans are looking for. There is no option to adjust the sensitivity to your liking, but you can work around this by recalibrating the board and leaning with more or less weight, thus changing the amount you have to move. You can even sit on the couch and play it. Trust us.

For those who lack a Balance Board, be warned, the control option you are left with his pretty cumbersome. Rather than map the steering to the Nunchuk analogue stick (which is used to switch weapons), Sabarasa instead implements gyroscope controls, requiring you to rotate the Wii Remote clockwise or counter-clockwise to move right or left. This makes aiming very difficult, as you have to turn the controller quite a bit to get your character to move. For a game based on fast-paced shooting, it is mind-boggling why Sabarasa barred the option to use the analogue stick to steer, especially when it would have worked so well with the Zapper.

There are four playable characters, each with a different appearance and load-out. A total of four guns are available, but each character carries only a specific two. The gun types include a wide shotgun-like attack, a standard rifle-like laser, a double laser and a slower, more powerful beam attack. No character has the same exact load-out, allowing you to experiment and find which guns suit you best. Choose wisely though, as there's no option to change characters once you start a game.

You can even level-up your guns to a certain point by continually defeating enemies. Maxing out your guns makes mowing down enemies (and bosses) much easier, but if you die your gun power reverts back, making staying alive doubly important. If you do die, you respawn right where you were, and can endlessly continue from the beginning of the stage if you run out of lives.

The three bosses in the game do a great job of breaking up the gameplay and keeping things fresh. Unlike normal enemies, bosses unleash a wide array of bullet patterns, frequently changing their attacks. The game even mixes in top-down perspectives here and there to periodically give the feel of a vertical shooter.

Graphically the game does a great job of conveying the setting: a distant planet in the future being terraformed by a malevolent artificial intelligence. While the enemy types are not all that robust, there are some great landscapes and a mix of 2D art and 3D animation to make up the futuristic worlds. You blast your way across highways, desserts and swamps as mechanical structures break up the natural settings and skyscrapers loom in the distance. The final section really shines, with a futuristic nighttime cityscape leading to a Tron-like inner core.

While total game time is not incredibly long, there is still some replay value thanks to the various characters you can play through the levels as. Sadly though, there is no online leaderboards. Just you and your high scores.

Conclusion

If you love classic third-person rail shooters like Space Harrier, Horizon Riders won't disappoint — so long as you own a Balance Board. Without the peripheral, the game depends on gyro controls that interfere with your aim and make the game more frustrating than difficult. If you do own the peripheral however, you owe it to yourself to check this game out. There certainly isn't an experience quite like it anywhere else. Sabarasa took a risk in creating such a unique experience for the Wii, and if you own a Balance Board and love shooters, you should seriously consider rewarding them for doing so.

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