Light-hearted, twee and more than a slice of cutesy-pie, this casual physics-based platformer, designed with two-player local co-op in mind, is amusing and bemusing in equal measure.
A brightly cast wash of fantasy caricature, there’s cartoon aplenty as the princess and her darling beau are tasked with ferrying the coffin of her Father, the dead King, through a twisting network of tunnels, caverns and ravines. The objective? ‘To reach a sepulchre fit for His Majesty’.
So we begin on a fairly bizarre note, but Chariot looks pretty enough, with its stylised, fairytale graphics, for me to stomach the early weirdness and press on through to the tutorial level, albeit with a somewhat quizzical expression burnt upon the brow. There’s the immediate thought that this is just one of those games that carries around its oddness like contagion, that going too near will perhaps send you a little nutty.
A fairytale romance between our heroine and hero, whose gender roles are refreshingly reversed, is all they hold close as they quest to find a resting place befitting the late King, wheeling the rather chintzy coffin deeper and deeper into the ground.
Describing itself as a ‘2-D couch cooperative platformer’, one can’t help but admire Chariot and its makers for the simplicity and honesty both put across. There is no pretence towards false grandeur, there is no lofty over-ambition, there is a simply realised premise and the knowledge that the simple platform model makes for hilarious, yet relaxed cooperative experience. It’s also a wonderful thing to find support for local cooperative, something which is fading year on year from the world of gaming; a great sadness in itself.
The physics used are a simple push/pull mechanic, wherein the player may push from behind the coffin-cart or pull it by attaching a rope to one of its wheels. The game exaggerats gravity, so slopes will take the coffin with them and the subterranean sarcophagus will rapidly gain momentum. Where motion is usually triggered by one player or another, the way in which the coffin interacts with the environment beyond this can cause slapstick scenarios where both players are being tugged along, way beyond their control, by the very thing they were supposed to be steering to the grave.
Chariot’s greatest success is the ‘couch’ interaction it sparks between the co-op team. Perhaps it’s telling that the team behind this, a Canadian outfit called Frima Originals, chose a couple to represent the two playable characters and chose to have the woman of the piece as the one wearing the trousers. The on-screen chaos might well reflect the chaos ensuing on the couch as it’ll have the players bickering like an old married couple as they delve into the depths, arguing over who knows best. It’s genius really, though for more volatile pairings it might be a bridge too far, so in that case I’d hide the sharp objects when experimenting with this particular game. It’s the perfect game for couples looking to start gaming together, perhaps where one is less used to the gaming world, perhaps not; this is a universally inviting and amusing game that exudes inclusivity and friendliness from the get-go.
The physics takes some getting used to, but once this level of understanding of the game is attained, the flow, and the synergy between one player and the other, can lead to a sense of zen-like calm, only broken by the vexing points where looters appear and must be dispatched. There’s creativity on display by Frima in how they’ve manipulated a concise list of simple mechanics to create such an entrancing experience.
There’s a rudimentary upgrade system, with tomb-crawling gadgets available to aid you in your quest. These are accessed through visits to the jovial Merchant, a skeletal salesman with a rather spiffy hat, where loot can be traded for new angles to conquer the levels, which are riddled with multiple entrances and exits, and offer various possible routes through.
Whilst Chariot won’t set the world alight, it’s a brilliant casual indie title for unwinding or sharing some time with a friend. The game is playable solo, but the local co-op play is where it shines and revives the hysterical joy of something that games simply seem to have forgotten about; this is casual, fun multiplayer gaming at its most simple and for that Chariot deserves credit. Download it for you and a friend, collect the snacks and spend an evening getting sore thumbs and laughing until your nose bleeds.