The Wii U is certainly not short of platformer games, from first party titles such as New Super Mario Bros. U to indie epics like Shovel Knight, so an addition to the system's growing list needs a special something to stand out from the crowd. Canadian developer Frima Studio may feel it has the answer with Chariot; it's a game focused on co-operative play, where you'll be carting around the weight of your father's remains. Although the latter may initially seem like a gimmick, it soon proves itself to be very clever design choice, breathing new life into an arguably familiar genre.
The story beings with a princess taking the coffin of her recently deceased father to his final resting place. However, upon arrival at the would-be crypt, the king's ghost pops up and declares that the sepulchre doesn't meet his royal requirements and that there are not enough valuables in the tomb. He requests that you take him in his 'chariot' – essentially a coffin on wheels – to find a better shrine, thus the story proceeds with exploring catacombs to find the perfect location, gaining riches along the way. As you may have guessed, the king has very particular tastes, so finding the suitable final destination won't be an easy task. The princess's fiancé is also on board for the adventure – as a playable character in both single player and co-op mode.
At its most basic, this game is a platformer with the added physics in the form of lugging around a coffin – which you can pull on ropes to transport and scale heights with. There's an emphasis on exploration in order to get the bigger treasures, though in a lot of cases these can only be obtained in co-op. The chariot also happens to have magnetism to the valuables you're collecting, meaning it'll draw gems out of rocks if you're within a near enough proximity.
You're also having to avoid 'looters' – an annoying bunch of creatures who, if disturbed by sound, will attempt to steal your recently obtained spoils – so you'll be wanting to move the chariot around as delicately as possible. Unfortunately, some of the bigger jewels you retrieve happen make a loud noise, meaning ambushes will be a fairly regular occurrence. Looters are not necessarily a welcome addition to the game; their primary purpose is to break up gameplay, though this has limited success. Fortunately, they're fairly easy to deal with as the princess is able swipe at looters with a sword, whilst the fiancé's offensive move is catapulting rocks.
As you're exploring catacombs, a lot of the game is based underground – pulling through tunnels and scaling rocks to reach seemingly impossible heights (considering the amount of weight you're transporting). Aside from treasure, you'll be collecting blueprints which can be taken to the game's shopkeeper in order for him to build upgrades for your chariot, enabling you to progress in later levels. Upgrades include a lamp to see in dark areas and a peg which can be used to pin down the chariot for a short period of time; the peg can also be used to acquire some treasures which should only be possible to obtain in co-op mode.
Letting the chariot out of your sight for a short period of time will trigger a countdown, and when it reaches zero you'll restart from the last checkpoint. In some situations it's actually impossible to get back to the chariot once you break away from it, so the game gives you a dedicated button to restart from the last checkpoint without having to wait for the countdown. A lot of the levels, meanwhile, feature pressure switches which open doors or create platforms; some of these are quite challenging, especially those on timed switches. There are also rails which characters can cross and the chariot cannot, and vice versa, so in some cases you'll be dangling below your chariot or riding on top of it as it speeds down ramps littered with rocky obstacles. There is a map which is useful when you get lost, but sadly you have to pause the game In order to see it, meaning Chariot doesn't make great use of the GamePad - it just duplicates what's being displayed on the TV.
Your main tool is your rope for pulling and reigning in; the ZR button leashes out the rope to the chariot if it's within distance, while LR lengthens the rope and L will hoist it. Holding down B sends you back to the last checkpoint, A jumps, X is your offensive move – sword or catapult - and Y uses whichever item you have equipped at the time; each character can go in with one item of choice, but can't use the same item. Pressing down whilst hoisting anchors you to stop you slipping, which is very handy on icy platforms.
There were a few occasions in single player mode when we became stuck in a small gap with the chariot on top of us, and repeatedly tapping the jump button would move the chariot slightly but not enough to create a gap to jump through. It is possible to get out of these situations with a bit of patience, but you may want to save yourself some frustration and head back to the last checkpoint. There are also some difficult platforming sections where you have the chariot hanging beneath you, shortening your jumps, meaning you have to hoist the chariot up before attempting your next jump while it's dropping. This was mainly down to inexperience with the game's mechanics, though, as they can be a bit fiddly to master initially. However, sticking with it will eventually lead to a eureka moment where these particular sections become less of a struggle.
Co-op play is local only, which in Chariot's case seems to be a good thing, as communication proves to be key during those tricky moments when trying to reach treasure high above ground. Taking on the two player puzzles benefits from a bit of pre-planning first, which you'll be grateful of when rewarded with a successful attempt. It's advised that you bring a competent gamer in with you if you want to avoid petty squabbles and further frustration. Cooperative play does make things a lot easier when it's successful and all spoils are possible to collect within a level – as opposed to single player mode's slightly hampered experience. Each player is also able to bring their own gadget into the level, which adds another layer to the puzzle-solving experience.
Chariot is a great looking game and Frima Studio knows this; at the beginning of each level the camera spends a few seconds panning over key locations in a level, which happen to be very easy on the eye. The overall presentation is cartoony, with the character animations being full of life and humour reminiscent of that of the Monkey Island series. Whilst the theme is quite morbid, it's all pulled off in a very light-hearted way. Although the king's criticisms can get a bit repetitive after a while, the voice acting throughout Chariot is spot-on. The game's audio is simple but effective, with music used sparingly during the level but remaining firmly in the background, and sound effects that never seem out of place.
The levels range from a few minutes to over an hour depending on how much you want to explore or how lost you get – this reviewer got lost a few times in the second world. There are officially 25 levels but some of these need to be entered more than once to progress – usually when you've acquired the relevant chariot upgrade. It's a fairly lengthy campaign and there are achievements to be unlocked as well as speed runs upon completion of a level, all of which add to the title's replayability.
Chariot is not for the faint of heart, it's a game that requires patience and a slightly stubborn nature to stick with, whether in co-op or single player. Although initially often frustrating, you do grow to embrace the challenging nature of Chariot. Solo gamers may want to approach with caution as, although it's still a decent experience, this isn't a game carved out with single player as its main focus. Instead you'll be left with a somewhat hampered campaign that's equally as frustrating but far less rewarding than that of co-op mode. However, those who are able to enlist a gaming partner of similar ability will get the most out of Chariot, and the unique experience it offers makes it far easier to recommend.