Never until playing Chariot have I been properly grateful that I write for a publication that doesn’t assign numerical scores to games. If one held Chariot up to a rubric meant to distill its value to the average consumer, there would need be all sorts of deductions from its overall score. It’s a game that can be played in single player or cooperatively, but the single player experience pales in comparison to the multiplayer experience. The multiplayer experience has no online functionality, completely falls apart without constant communication between players, and is tough enough that both participants probably ought to be experienced gamers.
It’s my duty to warn you all that these are the ideal conditions in which to play the game—if you can’t secure the time, controllers, and a friend to play this game cooperatively then it’s not the best investment. It is not, however, my duty to boil the game down to a number. So, with that warning out of the way I won’t be mentioning sub-par Chariot play conditions again and it won’t be influencing my writeup of the game, because I did play Chariot in the ideal conditions and the experience I had absolutely blew my mind. [Note: My experience is with the Wii U version.]
The premise: The King has died, the princess and her boyfriend roll his casket to a shady glade where he can enjoy his eternal slumber. As the two sadly say their final farewells, the King’s ghost pops out of the coffin to declare that no, this shady glade will not do at ALL for him to push up daisies from. He is a King, and Kings deserve grand sepulchres filled with riches! Your mission is to haul his coffin through increasingly dangerous tombs hoping to find a place he deems suitable.
I realize that the pitch “It’s like a 2D platformer, but you need to drag a cart along with you everywhere!” probably inspires more dread than enthusiasm, escort quests have a bit of a naff reputation. In this case trepidations are unfounded. Figuring out how to move the cart through the levels is the entire point. Chariot recalls Trine more than Mario Bros., it’s a physics manipulation game at heart with deceptive resemblance to 2D platforming. Challenging sequences of tricky jumps are not the name of the game.
The mechanics are simple. You can tether yourself to the cart to pull it, you can push the cart, you can ride on top the cart, and you can dig in to any solid ground to prevent the weight of the cart from dragging you down should it be dangling off a cliff. You can reel your tether in and let slack back out with the two left side shoulder buttons.
The mechanics are simple, but their applications are not. Getting the casket from point A to point B requires stretching these functions to their limits. Sometimes you need to drag the casket off a ledge with you so that your partner can catch the two of you as you go by, sometimes you’ll need to use the chariot as a temporary platform while a player suspends it with their tether. Sometimes you’re going to need to swing the chariot back and forth with your partner hanging off his tether at the opposite end so that he can build momentum and jump off at the apex of his swing like Indiana Jones.
And that’s when things go right. Chariot is a game where the best laid plans fall apart without fail. What’s wonderful is that the obstacles are designed such that a plan that’s fallen apart will often work just as well or even better than what was originally intended. I am certain that the way I cleared some of the two player challenges was not what the developers intended, but it’s the ability to improvise and manipulate the physics of the game in creative ways that make the game compelling.
Really the only complaint I have with the game is the combat. Combat doesn’t show up too terribly often and it’s very simple, but there’s just no point to it. I don’t need to deal with these bats as a punishment for dropping the chariot off the platforms, my punishment is that I need to drag it all the way back up there to try again. It’s very ICO like – a delightful platformer that occasionally makes the player mindlessly mash the attack button for a moment before being allowed to progress.
Just like ICO before it, though, uninspired combat is hardly a deal breaker. Grab a friend, grab a beer, grab an extra controller, and grab Chariot. The game is out now on PC, Wii U, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Food for thought:
1. The game is finicky about detecting controllers. If you’re trying to sync up a Wii Remote, it won’t even respond until the appropriate extension controller has been plugged in. I wasted a fair bit of time at boot up trying to get it to detect a controller that it just wouldn’t read because the classic controller wasn’t plugged into the base yet.
2. Speaking of wasting time, I also wasted a fair bit of time replaying the first three levels because I didn’t save properly. Pro tip: there’s no auto save, and navigating back to the main menu doesn’t trigger a save either. You need to specifically pull up your pause menu and scroll to “Save and Quit”. It’s a harmless eccentricity once you know how to save, but a bit of a bother if you don’t.
3. Chariot caused my partner and I to develop a peculiar shorthand terminology. Most of it was harmless, but we did get some funny looks when one of us frantically instructed the other “Do the dangle! Quick!”
4. Fun Fact: This game comes from a Canadian developer and was subsidized through the Canada Media Fund to the tune of $221,025. I checked the Fund press release in research for this piece and saw that the developers were aiming to create “a unique cooperative multiplayer experience that can be enjoyed at home with friends and family.” I’d say they nailed it.