Over Horizon
System: NES Publisher: Hot-B Developer: Hot-B
Genre: Action Type: Space Shooter Circa: 1991
Big bugs are common in outer space...This level more than casually resembles the first stage of Gradius 3...except for those big stone cougars!

Every now and then, I hear about a game that is a "should've", "could've", "would've". It should've been a classic, it could've been great, it would've been one of the best, etc. If any game fits that description, it is most certainly Hot-B's very-little-known shooter, Over Horizon. Over Horizon was a game that was all slated to be released in North America, but never really made its way here. While it may appear to be a typical sidescrolling shmup on the surface, Over Horizon is actually one of the most creative and innovative NES shooters I've ever seen.
GRAPHICS: 8.5/10
The graphics of Over Horizon are very much above average for an NES shooter. While it is lacking a bit in detail, what is there looks very good. You'll start off in a space jungle with tangled vines, and move onto exotic locations, such as an ice cave, space fortress, waterfall, and a desert that looks very much like Level 1 of Gradius 3. The colors are very bright and vibrant, and they don't have any of that "grainy" look. The enemies are all well-drawn, and there's a few rock-like ships in the desert area that almost look 16-bit. However, the real bread and butter of this game's graphics are the bosses. Many of them are huge and well-detailed. The final boss is one of the most impressive, and nastiest-looking enemies I've seen on the NES. This game also has a special code that will change many of the graphics in the game to strange "Japanese" images. For example, your ship and options become a Samurai and galloping horses, power-ups become Kanji, etc. This is a fun thing to try out in case you ever do get bored looking at the same graphics all the time.
Icy world has some interesting level design...Now THIS is a boss!
SOUND: 8.5/10
Over Horizon's music is far above average and many of the tunes are already among some of my favorites. Of all NES shooters I've played, this one's music is probably only outdone by Life Force and Dragon Spirit. The music is moody, even emotional at times, and never sounds cheesy. The boss theme is good, although a bit overused (mini-bosses have the same music.) The music is very good, but the game lacks a bit in the actual sound effects department. There are very few sound effects at all. For most of the game, the only three things you'll hear are the noise of your ship firing it's current weapon, the noise the weapon makes on impact with an object, and the small explosions when enemies are destroyed. Bosses make a louder explosion, which is typical, yet satisfying. The weapon "impact" sound effect is a little odd, because it makes a "thumping" sound. But perhaps a lack of sound effects isn't so bad, since you'll want to be able to hear the excellent music, anyway.
CONTROL: 9.5/10
Somebody finally answered my prayers and gave us a sidescrolling shooter without speed-ups! Hooray! The ship in Over Horizon only has one very comfortable speed, which means that control is near-perfect. Dodging around the assorted obstacles on the screen has never been easier to control. OH also has an innovative quality in the fact that your ship can shoot both forwards and backwards (but not both at the same time.) Pressing both A and B at the same time will make your options spread out. Pressing both again will draw them back in. The only minor nitpick I have with the control is that sometimes it's a little too touchy in narrow passages.
Check out that gargoyle-like gundam!...Things really speed up here!
STORY/ATMOSPHERE: 4/10
Over Horizon falls into the category of "generic shooter story": One little ship vs. some huge alien army. However, I give it a few points because OH executes it well. There are no generic-looking enemies. Everything is very creative, although there is some obvious inspiration from Gradius 3, such as the desert level and some of the big ship bosses. There's also a cool little surprise twist at one point in the game, but I don't want to reveal anything. :) One area that is a good example of how this game shows off its atmosphere is the final level, where you can see the explosions of a battle going on far in the background. But, like all shooters, it isn't a game that you play for the plot.
CHALLENGE: 8.5/10
Over Horizon offers a very decent, and very fair challenge to shmup fans. One thing that I find most pleasing about OH is that the game relies more on memorization of enemy locations and attack patterns then it does on powering up to the max and blowing through everything with ease. A good example of the game's creative design is in Level 2, where you must shoot at switches to open and close gates. Some will open while others will close, so you have to move quickly to get through. Another example is in Level 3, where you must shoot at huge blocks of ice to move them around, and then weave in-between them to get through. The bosses all present a unique challenge. Although one minor flaw may be the excessively long time it takes to beat some of them, which can be tedious, especially the final boss. I don't think the game becomes overly difficult until Level 5, which is about twice as hard as Levels 1-4 put together. There are 6 levels, altogether, and 5 is definitely the most difficult because of the unpredictable bubble enemies that crowd the screen and the waterfalls that push your ship downward. When you die, you restart at the point you left off. But if you lose all your ships and have to continue, you'll start at the very beginning of the last stage you were on. This can be a bit frustrating in Levels 5 and 6, which have multiple sections and bosses. Overall, it's a decent challenge, but it could've increased a bit more gradually, and some of the bosses could've been made a little less tedious.
FUN: 8/10
Over Horizon is certainly one of the better shmups I've played on the NES. The levels are long and varied, and each presents a new kind of challenge. OH also features a unique weapon edit mode. In this mode, you can change how your options will be positioned, and you can alter the effective power of the special weapons. It doesn't add a whole lot to the gameplay, but it is an interesting feature. The actual gameplay borrows heavily from ideas already used in R-Type and Gradius games, but at least OH pulls them off very nicely! I've played many shooters in which the whole idea was to power up to the max, then stay back as far as possible, shooting at anything that appears on-screen. Thankfully, Over Horizon's play is much more innovative. Even when fully powered-up, your ship is never overwhelming to the enemy forces. Sometimes, you'll have to decide what enemies to shoot and what enemies to dodge. Rather than just stay back at the left, you will need to dodge around the entire screen quite a bit to avoid obstacles, enemies, and enemy bullets. The aforementioned Level 2 gates and Level 3 ice fields are good examples of this, and so is Level 5, where you must weave through a screenload of bubbles and waterfalls. The bosses and mini-bosses are varied, and require different strategies for each. There's one mini-boss that you'll have to chase down a tunnel, and the screen scrolls very fast! Some bosses require you to circle around them or get behind them and shoot backwards to damage them. The overall length of the game may seem short, but it's about on par with most NES shooters.
This may look like a cute bubbly waterfall, but......Ewwww...

Over Horizon is a solid entry into the shooter genre, and it's a real shame that it was never actually released in North America. There is a PAL version in Europe, and it may have been released in Japan, but other than that, the only way to play it is with a ROM, which I do not promote! I reviewed this game because I felt it deserved attention. I've always loved the shooter genre, and one that is made this well simply won't go unnoticed from me. The graphics, especially the bosses, are good, the music is excellent, the control is near-perfect, and the game has some innovative challenges. The only thing missing is a tougher second quest.
OVERALL SCORE (not an average): 8.5/10

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