Carting around the body of a dead king may sound like the premise for a horror game featuring zombies rather than a cute, colorful platformer with a princess, but that’s exactly what Chariot is. This downloadable title for the Xbox One and PS4 (and coming soon to Wii U and PC) also features creative gameplay that can be played with a friend (or son or daughter) and is a great game for players of all ages.
In Chariot, a princess and her fiance are transporting her deceased father’s remains to his final resting place. Unfortunately, the sepulcher they choose doesn’t meet with the king’s approval. His ghost appears telling them this and sends them into the Royal Catacombs to find a more suitable sepulcher and collect as many riches as they can along the way. Throughout the game the ghost of the king offers commentary on how well the characters are doing—or not doing as is often the case—and divulges things that make it clear he wasn’t a very just or honest individual during his life. Even though he’s not terribly nice, the king’s commentary was often amusing and I chuckled to myself on more than one occasion after hearing his dialogue. In spite of having to deal with the king’s unpleasantness, the princess and her fiance remain silent with cute smiles on their faces at all times. It’s a simple storyline that serves as the backdrop for some unique and creative gameplay.
Chariot is puzzle-platformer with a twist. Rather than simply needing to make a character jump and navigate the levels, you also have the unwieldy chariot containing the king’s remains to lug along with you. You can push the chariot, ride on top of it, or attach a rope to it in order to pull it. This simple addition makes the game pretty unique. In many areas you need to time not only your character’s jumps, but also when to attach, release, and reattach your rope in order to get over and around the obstacles. Once you get comfortable with this mechanic, the game throws more challenge at you in the form of life paths and death rails. Your character can walk on life paths, but the chariot cannot. Conversely, the chariot can roll over death rails, but your character will fall right through them. Then, on top of these challenges, the game adds in switches, gates, trampolines, lava, and even snowy surfaces that have to be dealt with to reach your goal.
These new challenges appear at a good pace, which means the game never gets boring, but it also means the difficulty ramps up fairly quickly. Like lots of older platforming games, Chariot has plenty of areas that require very precise timing, and I found myself trying the same jump multiple times before landing it. Luckily, the game is generous with checkpoints, so if you miss a jump and take a precarious tumble, you can always return to the last checkpoint without losing very much of your progress. In addition to the standard goal of finding the king a sepulcher he likes, you’re tasked with finding collectibles and blueprints sprinkled throughout the levels that can be used to unlock gadgets between levels. These little extras help with the gameplay, but it’s not necessary to collect all of them in order to proceed. In fact, reaching the areas where these goodies are placed can be very difficult, especially if you’re playing alone. The upgrades you absolutely need are always placed directly on the main path so you don’t have to go searching for them.
Perhaps the best thing about Chariot’s gameplay is that two people can play together on the same screen. With one player taking the role of the princess and the other of her fiance, it’s a great game to use for some quality time with someone special. The nature of the gameplay also means you have to communicate well with each other while playing. It’s definitely not a game where you can sit side-by-side and play in silence, and that’s one of the reasons it’s so great. It teaches cooperation and collaboration in a way that’s subtle and fun.
Despite the dark and dreary premise, the game features a bright and vibrant art style. The characters are colorful and cartoony, while the levels feature all sorts of plants and flowers that literally blossom as your character runs by them. Even the shopkeeper (who is a skeleton) and the ghostly king are much more cute than scary. The different types of levels cover all sorts of terrain from grass to rocks to lava to snow, but they’re all beautifully rendered and colorful, and the game left me in a good mood even when I was having a difficult time with the gameplay.
The game is rated E with a content descriptor for Mild Fantasy Violence. At times your chariot will be attacked by “looters,” which come in the form of various animals. These creatures steal some of the treasure you’ve collected, but they can’t hurt your character. You can dispatch them with some of the gadgets you can craft, like a slingshot or bomb, and this is where the violence descriptor comes in.The looters are actually kind of a weird gameplay element in that you don’t really need to worry about them. The only thing you use your treasure for is purchasing upgrades and gadgets, and I never found myself without enough treasure to do that. In most cases, I simply ignored the looters and continued on my way, as they don’t return once they’ve grabbed some treasure.
Chariot is a cute and fun game that’s perfect for parents to play with their kids. Even though the premise is kind of dark and dreary, the art style and the gameplay are quite the opposite. The controls take a bit of getting used to and the game does get challenging fairly quickly, but it offers a unique opportunity to play a game that requires teamwork and communication without requiring you to look at a split screen or talk over a headset.