Chariot Xbox One Review
Physics-based puzzlers may seem like one of the more conceptually simple games to develop for, but look beyond the simplistic visuals and consider how difficult it could be to ensure that all of the gameplay mechanics function properly. Most games play fast and loose with physics, which tend to lead to humorous results, but when a game utilizes its physics engine as its chief mechanic, it becomes absolutely necessary to perfect.
Frima Studio is no stranger to dealing with complex mechanics in simplistic-looking games; the Canadian game developers have previously gotten their feet wet with web-based games in addition to mobile and portable platforms, but their debut into the new generation of consoles may the first title to gain them some notoriety. Chariot is a physics-based puzzle game that shares the studio’s track-record of simple-yet-innovative games while offering one of the more amusing premises seen anywhere; a princess and her fiancé have been tasked with finding a proper burial site for their dearly departed king, who accompanies the duo in spirit…literally. As they drag along the king’s body in a funeral wagon, his restless (and typically cranky) spirit demands that he be laid to rest in the most fortune-filled tomb imaginable. With the help of a wisecracking skeleton (naturally), the two lovebirds dutifully drag the coffin on wheels deep below labyrinthine caves in the hopes of finding a place to suit the king’s greedy spirit…while also collecting all the loot they can carry along the way.
The first thing to appreciate about Chariot beyond its delightfully wacky premise is its presentation; the flash-based cartoony visuals would sit right at home on a mobile platform, but the smooth and colorful lines really shine on a big TV. The jolly aesthetics, right down to the engaged duo touting happy faces even when forced to pull a presumably heavy wagon around results in a delightfully whimsical aesthetic that is strengthened further by toe-tapping music and amusing (if repetitive) voice acting from the king. It’s a look that is common enough with Indie games, but it has yet to grow tiring.
As for the gameplay, the objective is to reach the end of each level with coffined king in tow; players must keep close with their royal wagon at all times, as being separated for too long will result in an immediate reload to the nearest checkpoint. While the characters themselves are never in any danger, the wagon can become susceptible to bottomless cliffs and greedy creatures that will loot the cart for collectible loot unless they are dispatched by attacks from the player.
The real crux of the gameplay, however, is carrying the cart across various platforms, pits and other obstacles. This is also where the puzzle aspect comes in, as players must utilize the in-game physics to move the wagon forward. Fortunately, there are lots of ways that players can interact with the king’s coffin: pushing it is the most basic step, but latching onto it with a rope is the most essential. The rope acts as a literal link between the player and the wagon, and can be pulled or loosened accordingly. Get used to keeping that finger jammed on the shoulder button, as the majority of situations will require you to jump multiple platforms while steadily dragging the weighty wagon around.
Each level loops around all sorts of different directions, some leading to bonus loot, some leading to whole new areas that are inaccessible without the additional item (such as a lantern for exploring dark catacombs). There are also portions of the level that explicitly require two players pulling their weight, but this is unfortunately restricted to local co-op only. Though much of the extra exploration is entirely optional, the standard track to the goal without any detours is still lengthy and often repetitive. There are thankfully no shortage of checkpoints, which also keep track of your progress after shutting the game off, but be prepared for lots of trial-and-error as you begrudgingly drag the coffin around for the umpteenth time during certain areas.
Overall, Chariot is a game that is deliberately slow-paced and also demands patience. The game’s charming aesthetic is appreciable to everyone, but the gameplay may be too slow a burn for people used to faster physics-based games. For those with enough patience, however, there is plenty of content and cute visuals to reward diligent players.