Even with a concept thatâ€™s quirkier than most, weâ€™d argue that Chariotâ€™s standout feature is that it brings back good old local co-op gaming. With a friend by your side this physics-based platform puzzler evokes memories of when online gaming was a thing of the future; a time when two gamers could bond on a sofa, sharing strategies and revelling in victories with one another. If you havenâ€™t splashed out for a second Xbox One or PS4 controller yet, then Chariot could very well be the game that opens your wallet.
Itâ€™s lamentable that Chariotâ€™s co-op isnâ€™t of the drop-in/drop-out variety, but letâ€™s not rain on Frima Studioâ€™s parade just yet as thereâ€™s plenty to praise. The concept is a perfect place to start – playing as princess or her suitor, itâ€™s your job to traverse the cavernous royal catacombs to find a suitable resting place for a recently departed King. What should be a relatively easy task soon becomes a herculean quest however, with the King himself coming along for the ride. Taking the form of a ghostly spirit heâ€™s something of a fusspot, constantly complaining about, well, just about everything. In addition to frequently changing his mind about where his resting place should be, humorously pointing out even the smallest of problems, the royal one also demands that the chariot be filled with loot. Thankfully, the catacombs are rife with shiny gems for the taking.
The labyrinth-like levels start off small, giving plenty of scope to learn the ropes. Quite literally in this case – using the joypadâ€™s trigger buttons, a rope can be attached to the chariot and the slack reduced or lengthen as need be. Nuances are numerous, including the ability to flip the chariot in the air and use it as a temporary platform before it hurtles to the ground. In most instances youâ€™re left to figure these little time-saving tricks for yourself. Soon they become second nature, not to mention highly beneficial for collecting loot located in hard to reach areas.
If the chariot rolls out of view for too long then back to the checkpoint you go. This is the only means of failure – there are no grizzly deaths here, even when it comes to fending off gremlin-like looters. These mysterious creatures, with their glowing red eyes, are simply after loot and as such cause the protagonists no harm. Theyâ€™re attracted by the noise of the chariot falling from great highs or colliding into walls, and if they arenâ€™t catapulted off the royal wagon in good time theyâ€™ll make off with some of your valuables.
As the story unfolds – taking our intrepid adventurers across snow, sand and more – the looters become bigger and more menacing, requiring more hits from your trusty slingshot to cast back into the shadows. Fortunately the catacombs contain upgrade blueprints, some of which are essential to locate in order to progress.
The first unlockable item reveals one of Chariot’s many hidden depths. A metal peg can be temporarily used in situ of a second player, allowing (some patience permitting) the sections designed for two-players to be conquered on your lonesome. These sections usually include precious gems that only can be gained by getting the chariot to a far flung location, thus requiring some good old fashion teamwork to reach. Frequent in number, they further highlight Frima’s desire to bring gamers together. The rewards of course are even bigger bounties of loot, making the chariotâ€™s upgrades a tad more affordable.
Keeping with the hidden depths theme for a moment, despite appearing to be a reasonably straightforward 2D platformer on first inspection, Chariot is in fact deceptively devious. The levels quickly swell in size, going from short ten minutes romps to reach an exit to quests that take nearer the one hour mark. We’d even go as far as saying that Chariot does require a degree of commitment. Sections demanding both skill and patience are surprisingly common, with one hill climb in particular stumping up a twenty minute long struggle to finally reach the next checkpoint.
Chariotâ€™s pace may be slow but itâ€™s no walk in the park. Imagine playing the original Sonic the Hedgehog except the blue blur has been reduced to a walking speed, now only able to travel quickly when rolling downhill. Thatâ€™s a fair description of what Chariot is like to play. To be more exact, for every hill to painstakingly climb thereâ€™s a slope to go rallying down, plunging into depths unknown as the chariot flies haphazardly through the air. Perhaps a better analogy here would be tobogganing – getting to the top of the hill is a tough old slog, but that effort is soon rewarded.
Being deceptively devious isnâ€™t grounds for criticism, of course. Itâ€™s actually quite refreshing to play something that offers a good challenge, bringing back memories of the times when games were designed to take weeks of play to finish rather than just a few hours. To be fair, Chariot may not drain weeks of your gaming time but with multiple exits to find, a speedrun mode – in which upgrades and power-ups are permitted – and even a hidden level to discover you can rest assured that you wonâ€™t be seeing everything it has to offer in just a couple of evenings.
The experience may have however benefited from smaller levels because at times the sense of progression is far from forthcoming. A few more gadgets and gizmos wouldnâ€™t have gone amiss either, for ideas here are used sparingly. Platform staples such as pressure pads that open mechanical doors arenâ€™t introduced until a good few hours in, while springs and slippery ice covered slopes donâ€™t appear until later still. At least a good job has been done making the levels standout from one another. A quick glance of the map screen is all it takes to familiarise yourself when searching previously completed levels for alternative exits.
So, Chariot isnâ€™t quite this yearâ€™s Steamworld Dig or the new Spelunky. The fact that it does come close to matching the qualities of these two though is something remarkable. For those with both time and patience, Chariotâ€™s colourful rollercoaster ride of royalty and riches is one to consider.