Pimp my ride
Local cooperative play is something that’s been increasingly neglected in an age of videogames that pushes online connectivity seemingly first and foremost. It’s ironic that titles like Destiny are the current benchmark for social experiences, when all communication is done through a headset. After all, it really doesn’t get more personal than sitting next to someone on a couch and working (almost literally) hand-in-hand to achieve a goal.
Frima Studio hasn’t forgotten these golden moments of yesteryear, and aims to recapture them with Chariot. The developers succeeded in their ambition. In fact, they pull it off so well, that you might find yourself short-changed when you don’t have a partner in crime readily handy.
Chariot (PS4, Xbox One [reviewed], PC, Wii U)
Developer: Frima Studio
Released: September 30, 2014 (PS4) / October 1, 2014 (Xbox One) / Fall 2014 (PC, Wii U)
Chariot chronicles a princess’ quest to fulfill her recently deceased father’s final wishes and bury him in peace. As might be expected of royalty, his last request is that he be laid to rest with as much wealth as possible. He’s a king, after all. If you ever forget, you’ll be immediately reminded by his attention-seeking antics and demanding demeanor.
Playing the part of good daughter, a platforming adventure through several levels of cave ensues — all in the name of acquiring as much gold and as many jewels as possible. There’s a hook, though: The king’s coffin — err, chariot — needs to be dragged along, too. He wants to collect all that treasure first-hand.
This is how Chariot brilliantly distinguishes itself from the vast majority of platformers. The challenge is rarely in maneuvers that are made by the player-controlled character; it’s in figuring out how to lug that damn sarcophagus around. A rope can be tethered and unhinged from it at any time by holding and releasing a button, which is the only way up, over, around, under, or through certain obstacles.
Pushing and pulling the king’s ride through these levels proves daunting at first, but there’s a certain comforting rhythm to it once you grasp how the physics work. Initially, it can prove disastrous hopping over even the tiniest of gaps. However, before long, there’s a learned familiarity that makes it easy enough to fluidly take these sections in succession, knowing exactly when to let go and re-hook in order to maximize distance.
Then, your confidence is completely undone as the weight of the penduluming coffin sends you plummeting like a wrecking ball. But, that’s okay because the physics feel mostly consistent, and the characters have a believable weight to them. Dust yourself off and try again, princess.
Progressing-dashing mis-jumps aren’t the only foe in Chariot. There are looting creatures that populate small areas whose only goal is to steal your hard-earned fortune. These come in different forms (small hopping things, bats, large evil penguins, etc.), meaning that they have varied methods of attack. For instance, the bats are nearly impossible to run away from because pits can’t contain them, so you’ll have to fight them all off. The penguins are after bigger chunks of loot and take more than a single hit to dispose of.
The problem with the looters is that there’s no real reason for them to exist. Chariot is a challenging enough game in its own right, and it instills a methodical and cerebral platforming experience for the player. Adding these frequent sections with enemies undoes the zen-like groove that Chariot makes it easy to fall into, and their suddenly frantic pace directly opposes what the game excels at.
Chariot makes successful strides to vary gameplay through the game’s different areas, although sometimes to the point of needless frustration. For example, the second stage is entirely too dark, making it all too often unclear where the next platform rests. Upon entering the ice level, you can forget everything you know about Chariot‘s physics because it affects them so greatly that it’ll almost seem like an entirely different set of rules.
While the main and obvious path through Chariot can be relatively unimposing (“relatively” being the key word here), there are a remarkable number of alternate off-shoots that really ramp up the difficulty. Actually, it’s kind of astounding how much additional content there is if the player wants to find it (although, a good chunk of this is designed solely for cooperative play). Most of the time, it’s here that you’ll find each level’s extra goodies. Apart from more treasure, there’s a blueprint to craft gadgets and collectible skulls.
Gadgets are items that can be crafted between levels once the corresponding blueprints are obtained. They also cost a bit of gold, but that’s mostly negligible. One of the first ones is a peg that can be stuck into a wall temporarily, allowing you to tether the coffin from it, freeing you up to platform elsewhere. Another is a canary bomb that attracts looters and then explodes like a grenade. Only one gadget can be brought into each level, so choose wisely — its effect can greatly reduce your struggle.
Something else that can greatly reduce your struggle is a friend. Chariot as a singleplayer endeavor can feel a tad hollow because of all of the areas you have to pass on because they were designed for co-op. Often times, this is where some of the best loot is. Don’t get me wrong — solo play is still great; it’s just difficult to live up to the amazing experience that cooperative play offers.
Chariot with a partner can begin somewhat awkwardly. Brief tussles over the king, not quite sure who’s expected to do what, literal issues with people not pulling their weight. However, that all melts away before too long. Just like with singleplayer, there’s a learned rhythm that it doesn’t take long to fall into. Once you do, it’s harmonious — and more efficient than solo play, to boot.
For some parts, you and your partner will be able to get by on an unspoken mental bond over how to play Chariot. But, for the aforementioned optional routes, it’ll often require verbalizing exactly what each person’s next move should be. Even the simplest of these areas can be supremely rewarding once you clear them and collect the treasure you were after. When you best particularly difficult ones, well, you feel like a pair of kings (not counting that dead one you’ve been hauling around).
That’s where Chariot truly shines — its cooperative play. Going at Chariot solo adds up to a competent and unique platformer that’s satisfying, yet somewhat unfulfilling because of all the opportunity that’s unfortunately necessary to pass up. However, once you have a friend in the mix, any concern dissipates and you’re left with a memorable social experience that just happens to be almost flawless in its execution.