Horizon Shift '81 Review

Horizon Shift ‘81 was provided by Flump Studios. Inc. as part of a Twitter giveaway.
The Nintendo Switch eShop has become the new hot spot to find independent games. Some of these happen to be shoot ‘em up games. Horizon Shift ‘81 is of the genre and I recently had an opportunity to win a download code. Flump Studios was offering Twitter users an opportunity to get a download code for Horizon Shift ‘81 last week. To get a copy, you had to provide a screenshot showing a score of at least 50 points in Horizon Shift, an Atari 2600 demake of Horizon Shift ‘81. I scored 54 points and was provided a download code for the game. I have spent the weekend playing through Horizon Shift ‘81 and now I’m ready to highlight the joys of this game.

Great Concept Leads to Addictive Gameplay

Horizon Shift ‘81 has that “one more round” addictive gameplay trait that made many classic Atari 2600 games a lot of fun. The concept here is pretty simple: you control a ship that is on a line called the horizon and must shoot your way through waves of enemies. Enemies will approach from both the top and bottom of the screen, but luckily, you can flip your ship and shoot in the opposite direction. You can also jump, which adds some neat platforming challenges, and use a dash attack to deal with enemies that attach themselves to the horizon. There are a variety of enemies to deal with, each with unique behaviour, which keeps things feeling fresh throughout. The game can get quite difficult in the later stages, so it’s important to use all of these maneuvers to your advantage.

Power-ups are another way to make the journey easier. There are traditional weapon power-ups, which includes things like rockets, flames, lasers, and more. The weapon you choose to stick with comes down to preference as you can only use one at a time. Some weapons fire faster, but are weaker, while others are more powerful, but cause your ship to move slower when in use. There are other power-ups, known as ship modifiers, that will add either extra firepower, or defense for your ship. These power-ups stack, so you can become unstoppable with reverse fire, turrets, and a shield for taking an extra hit. As you collect both types of power-ups, your bomb bar will be filled, which can then be used to unleash a screen clearing attack.

Variety of Game Modes

Horizon Shift ‘81 has 4 game modes to choose from when you start the game. There is Arcade Classic, which I think of as the game’s main mode. Here, you start with three lives and attempt to clear the game. There are checkpoints after every 5 levels, and then one after every boss fight. Then there is Arcade Arrange mode, which starts you with just 1 life, but gives you a checkpoint after each level. This mode makes it easier to see each level the game has to offer. Then there are two speed based modes. One of which sees the game speed up after each level, while the other is an all out hyper battle. Neither of those modes offer checkpoints and are certainly for the most hardcore of players. There are two unlockable modes, as well, so there are plenty of ways to play Horizon Shift ‘81.

Unbalanced Difficulty

My only complaint with Horizon Shift ‘81 is with how the difficulty is balanced. The game’s levels are more difficult than its boss fights. Boss fights should normally serve as the tougher challenge, but here, it’s actually getting to the battle that is most difficult. Checkpoints do help, as does the ability to start from the last checkpoint, but it becomes a frustrating test of endurance. Obtaining extra lives help alleviate this issue, but they are not easy to get. 1UPs can be obtained by completing bonus levels. Bonus levels can be reached by saving 5 stranded aliens, but I often found myself risking my life to do so. I think rewarding 1UPs after reaching certain scores would be a better option. You can choose to tone down the difficulty, but there is still an incredible amount of enemies, bullets, and other obstacles to keep an eye on, so it didn’t help me much. Despite its more difficult moments, the game is still fun, and it’s incredibly rewarding when you do overcome them.

Customizable Look

Horizon Shift ‘81 offers players a number of ways to customize their experience. There are a number of graphical effects to experiment with, which include things such as glow effects, borders, etc. There are also preset schemes available from the developer, including a retro clean mode with most effects turned off completely. This retro clean look is what I decided to use. I would be doing the game a disservice by not mentioning the ability to rotate the screen, allowing gamers to play this shoot ‘em up vertically, as if you were playing it in an arcade. Gamers with a flip grip will find this a desirable way to play.

Another Fantastic Video Game Soundtrack

While this game may not go down as having the best soundtrack of all time, it is most certainly fantastic. The music is a perfect fit for this game and can be best described as sci-fi rock. It is upbeat, retro sounding, and rocks just as hard as the game rocks its players.


Horizon Shift ‘81 will likely become an underrated indie gem. It has a lot of competition with other independently developed titles on the Nintendo Switch eShop, however, I feel it’s worth giving a shot. The game’s difficulty might put off casual gamers, but those that enjoy shoot ‘em ups with a twist will no doubt find comfort in Horizon Shift ‘81.

Final Score: +3

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