Chariot, the latest effort from Canadian Indie developer Frima Studio, is a title that has seen a lot more attention than a game of its ilk would usually enjoy, thanks largely to its launch day availability on the Games with Gold program on Xbox One. Chariot is pitched as a couch co-op 2D platformer, so is it a great time for two or should it just be left alone?
The story Chariot weaves is surprisingly dour. It tells of a recently deceased king and his loyal servants, who must drag his moody corpse to a resting place his lordship finds satisfactory. The king is surprisingly greedy for a dead guy, as he demands that you collect plenty of loot on your way to his resting place of choice. Grim the premise may be, but Chariot doesn’t dwell on it for long – this is a light and cheery take on death and the afterlife.
You assume the role of one of the king’s doting servants, pulling his wheeled casket through the Royal Catacombs on a mission to find a suitable resting place . You have the choice of pushing the royal coffin from behind, or attaching a rope to it and pulling it along. Chariot is as much about solving problems as it is about pure platforming, tasking you with pushing, pulling and riding the casket over and around all manner of obstacles. After the menu screen, Chariot gets the action started immediately, which is quite jarring, as I was fully expecting some sort of cutscene. The cutscene happened eventually, and it wasn’t long before I came to appreciate what a good idea throwing the player straight into the action is. I had to figure out the controls myself in order to get things started: tap the right trigger to lasso the coffin, use the analogue stick to move, and drag the dead guy along.
On your journey through the catacombs, you find loot in the form of gems that come in different shapes and sizes. This loot collection can be used to purchase additional items that aid you on your journey – these items can only be purchased once the Royal Scrolls that describe them (blueprints) have been found, encouraging exploration. And explore you must, as Chariot’s later levels are sprawling underground wildernesses, with many entrances and exits. You will need to revisit these levels many times to find all of their secrets; I have no doubt that many people will get lost exploring some of Chariots more elaborate mazes.
You will find a relatively easy path through the level if you follow the well placed arrow markers, but for those willing to explore to find the most treasure, there are a staggering number of little off-shoots that will pull you in. All of this can be shared with a friend, with advertised sections of every level that can only be completed by a team of two players. I managed to coax the missus into playing along for a good hour or two, the feedback being that she enjoyed it, found it accessible and that she’d be coming back for more. For my part, I really enjoyed getting involved in some couch-based 2-player action – there is something about actually being in the room with the person you are gaming with, you know?
Where Chariot’s true joy comes from is its platforming. Having to worry about two on-screen objects instead of one (the player character and the coffin) is nothing new of course, you can go all the way back to Yoshi’s Island for that, but Chariot does do it rather well. There are some brutally difficult areas here, and I found myself repeating the same jump, capture and coffin pulling exercise excessively on numerous occasions. And you know what? I did it all with a smile on my face, and this is coming from someone that is easily frustrated by repetition. What I did get mildly frustrated with is the lack of overall variety on offer – the unlockable gadgets bring new challenges to Chariot, but on the whole, you don’t see anything brand new after the third stage.
Chariot is a challenging game, and it adds a little more challenge by throwing in enemies that want to take a piece of your loot stash. “Looters” are little creatures that appear when you make too much noise, and come out of the walls to attack the king’s casket and run off with some loot, so it is advised that you keep noisy manoeuvres to a minimum. You can fend off the looters with a simple melee attack, but they add another layer of interest to a game already bursting with qualities – another challenge in a world of challenges.
This is a particularly pretty title; its bouncy cartoony characters and luscious caverns are a real feast for the eyes. The deeper into Chariot’s catacombs you get, the more awesome stuff starts to look. Pathways that either the player character or the king’s casket can use react to their presence either with a barrage of ghostly skulls or a blossom of fresh green foliage. The plants and gems all glow with glorious phosphorescence. It’s an easy game to admire.
Frima’s title is yet another one to add to your bucket list of 2D platformers. I personally am loving the indie renaissance of the last few years – the online platforms have given developers the means to create some stunning games. Chariot is up there with the best of them: its take on puzzle platforming is unique enough and challenging enough to keep you engaged for some time. It won’t capture the attention or admiration of everybody, of course, but for those of you who yearn for days gone by, Chariot is a must see.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.