Chariot Review: An Uneven Treasure

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Chariot has been out for a few months now on other consoles, but it recently released on the Wii U so I had a chance to sit down and get some time in with it. Hours upon hours of puzzling, jumping, jumping and jumping some more later, I have come away heavily on the fence about the game. It’s clear what it wants to be – a charming couch co-op platformer with a close-knit group of colorful characters and physics-based puzzles – but it just never quite hits the mark.
That isn’t to say that playing Chariot as a whole is a bad experience by any means; its individual parts are pretty solid. The platforming, in short bursts, is a lot of fun. Throughout the game you are pulling a chariot that houses the spirit of a dead king, who is also your father (or your fiance’s father if you’re playing as the male protagonist). The game utilizes this burden by making it part of the puzzles and just general platforming. The chariot itself has to be near jewels to collect them, so a lot of them are hidden in creative places that require you to swing, dangle, and otherwise pull your cart to its treasure. One of my favorite things in the game, and in any recent platformer, is swinging the chariot over a small obstacle and jumping off of the chariot to reach a higher location. It is a maneuver that takes some getting used to, but once you do, you’ll be using it all the time and it feels so satisfying every single time. In general, the physics and jumping both have a loftyness to them to keep the game feeling light, but not so much so that they make it feel floaty and unresponsive.
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The level design works well when playing co-op, with its sprawling caves and many ledges and hidden pathways waiting to be explored. An on-screen map would have been a welcome edition, but it’s still not terribly hard to just open the pause menu and check where anything is that you missed, and you’re definitely going to want some small breaks to plot out where to head next. There’s a small hint of metroidvania as well, in the fact that you have to get certain items to unlock new areas of the catacombs.
Unlike true metroidvania games, however, levels are based on a selection screen, and not a wide open environment that you explore and come upon these items naturally. Instead, getting new items is based entirely on finding blueprints and bringing them to the shop owner who creates them for you. This leads to unlocking new areas being a matter of getting an item, hopping back into a level you already completed and going to the previously inaccessible area. Sometimes that location is just a short jaunt from the level’s entry point, making it feel like a waste of time, and others it is across a huge area that you’ve already completed before. The whole process is generally lacking in any sort of feeling of accomplishment whatsoever.
It’s not a slight on the game to say that Chariot is very much a couch co-op game. Like a lot of indie games coming lately, Chariot wants to encourage you to bring a friend over and play. When the co-op puzzles are at their best, they are great. They require constant communication, coordination, and a constant eye on what the chariot is doing and who is holding it at the time. In a way, it’s almost like a game of Twister in that neither person can move until they are absolutely sure it won’t make everyone topple over. Falling from a puzzle usually never causes too much heartache either, as there is almost always a platform relatively close to you, especially in the early stages. So having your partner miss a jump, or yank the chariot over the platform and vault you across the chamber results in laughter, and not breaking of controllers. With that said though, at times even the co-op puzzles can seem tedious. Quite a few of them are simply just repeating the same steps to climb up to a higher jewel, which can result in frustration when you’ve done the same maneuver four times only to fall on the fifth several times over.
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The fact that Chariot is so heavily geared toward co-op makes the lack of online multiplayer pretty puzzling. You can compare speedrun times with friends and others, but that’s about it. I’d almost say if you don’t have a dedicated partner who can hop over to your house and play, the game just isn’t worth it. Playing by yourself causes you to miss out on all of the real challenging puzzles and it ends up being long stretches of carrying the chariot over small bumps and making relatively easy jumps. The game lacks any real charm or anything connecting the various segments of the maps so it all bleeds together relatively quick if you’re playing solo.
Not every game needs to Portal in terms of character development or quirky charm, of course, but it really felt like Chariot missed the mark big time in terms of endearing characters or environments. And it’s more than just wanting a silly character to get attached to, which the game lacked, but it also lead to everything just feeling very similar to each other, even when the environments open up into brighter locations. There’s just nothing memorable about the individual level’s visuals or sound, no catchy tune to listen to while you’ll traversing over that same bump again, and never that sense of adventure when you enter a new area. It’s a physics-based puzzler so the developers options aren’t limitless of course, but the lack of any kind of difference between locations makes the game feel like such a slog when you get into the meat of it. Just having a bright color palette isn’t quite enough anymore when it comes to creating interesting visuals.
In the same vein, the story is non-existent, but that isn’t nearly as important. I completely understand that is a puzzle game first, platformer second, and story-drive adventure somewhere around fifth. That ghostly king that you’re carrying around in the chariot does have some quips he shouts out during random times, and while they aren’t said frequently enough to get annoying, they lack any real personality. Right from the start you’re made to realize that your characters kind of dislike the father/future father-in-law and the fact that they have to drag him along and that never really changes.
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Overall, Chariot has some pretty great individual aspects to it, but it just lacks that final injection of charm and creativity to push it to the next level. There are one too many annoyances and long stretches of tedious repetitive platforming within the game. When at its best, the platforming is solid, especially in conjunction with the chariot, and the co-op is fun enough when at its best, but it may not even be worth picking up at all if you are playing solo. Two and a half MOARGeeks out of five.

**We received a review copy of Chariot for the purposes of this review
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