Last Friday, Brazilian developer Aquiris dropped Horizon Chase 2 on Apple Arcade. It’s the studio’s first true successor to 2015's Horizon Chase, a hit arcade racer that originally released for mobile devices but has since made its way to every gaming platform. The sequel had been a long time coming, but Aquiris eased the wait with years of support and touching expansions dripping with nostalgia.
Horizon Chase 2 feels like a victory lap for one of the few series keeping the flame of old-school racing games alive. It’s not massively different from its predecessor, in that it still apes the gameplay and general feel of sprite-scaling racers of the pre-polygonal era, like Out Run, Super Monaco GP and, most of all, Top Gear.
The most profound difference is in the track design. Whereas the first Horizon Chase focused on replicating the flat-plane perspective of racing on Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo with sparse 3D assets, Horizon Chase 2 features richer, fully constructed 3D environments that bridge the gap between the series’ inspiration and the wave of titles that would follow, brought about by the likes of Ridge Racer and Daytona USA.
The latter group contains the racing games I personally grew up with, so it’s delightful to watch Horizon Chase develop much the same way technology allowed through the ’90s. Rest assured, though — Horizon Chase 2 still plays like Top Gear, with its pseudo on-rails steering that subtly guides you into corners. It’s missing the physical freedom I personally prefer, but it is perfectly suited for a mobile context, where precise analog control isn’t something most gamers have access to.
The primary feature addition for Horizon Chase 2 is online multiplayer. Now you can party up with your friends and take on the game’s Playground mode, which slots your group into a field of AI competitors for a quick race, or challenge multi-race tournaments. It’s an inclusion Aquiris is especially excited about, judging from a conversation I had with General Manager Nando Guimaraes.
“We have seven years [since Horizon Chase’s release] with veteran players providing us several feedbacks and insights,” Guimaraes told me. “We follow them up on our channels, and for all these seven years, they have asked for a bunch of things that we thought was very nice to have. And we always try to deliver for those things, but one in particular — two, actually — we weren’t able to deliver directly on Horizon Chase.”
Online multiplayer was easily the most requested, Guimaraes said. The ability to customize cars at a more granular level was also inspired by popular demand. “We have specific, individual upgrades for each of these cars, and in Horizon Chase we had one for all of them.”
Those are the notable additions on Day One, but Aquiris is planning the same support that kept drawing players back to the original Horizon Chase and Horizon Chase Turbo, to give the sequel a similarly long shelf life.
“New cars, new customizable parts, new tracks of course, new countries to play [in] and also, new mechanics. And, if we’re lucky, why not get an additional IP like Senna Forever and make something as great [as the license].” Guimaraes laughed. “I wouldn’t say ‘greater’ because, you know, it’s a national hero. Senna for us is the number one hero in Brazil.”
Guimaraes added that Aquiris will continue to experiment with tweaks to the traditional Horizon Chase formula. That might mean new camera perspectives — like Senna Forever had — or even more profound changes. The studio isn’t ready to get specific at this time, but just because I know they might be listening, I reckon an Out Run-style mode with branching paths would prove a surefire hit. Or maybe a Super Hang-On-inspired two-wheeled spinoff?
One thing that hasn’t changed is the soundtrack. Horizon Chase 2 marks the return of Barry Leitch — the prolific Scottish video game music composer that gave Top Gear its signature score. A score so famous in Brazil, it can bring an entire event hall’s worth of fans to their knees. Aquiris asked Leitch to contribute to the first Horizon Chase, and he’s back for this one as well.
“Barry Leitch — he has to be there,” Guimaraes told me. “It’s a law. If you want to do something in that style, you gotta have Barry Leitch on board. And he’s just pure charisma, right? That Scottish accent, whenever he joins in in the meetings with us, he just brings the morale up. Right now on Discord, people were asking ‘will you launch all the music and the songs of the game, because we want to listen?’ And then out of nowhere — he didn’t even talk with us — Barry Leitch just went there and sent all his music from the game!”
Right now, Horizon Chase 2 is exclusive to Apple Arcade. That changes in 2023, when Aquiris will bring it to PC and consoles. At launch, the game nips at 60 frames per second on my iPhone 11 Pro and M1 MacBook Air, with sporadic drops. I asked Guimaraes if the studio would seek even higher frame rates on the devices that can handle them, like the iPhone 14 Pro with its 120Hz ProMotion display.
“It’s something that we want to do,” he told me. “I can’t promise right now because it’s been a technical issue with us. It’s running on 60 frames [per second] and then 30 frames, but to get to 120 frames and use all the ProMotion, all the things that Apple actually provides is work that we want to do. I just can’t tell when exactly.”
There are some kinks that will need to be worked out. Controller compatibility in certain menus proved a little buggy when I played on my Mac, for example. Nevertheless, the pure arcade racing magic shines through, and Horizon Chase 2 is likely to become my mobile racer of choice for the foreseeable future. If its predecessor is any indication, it’ll only sweeten with age.