Chariot

On paper, Chariot sounds like a game designed as an amalgamation of indie buzzwords, the end product of a particularly one-track game of “pull words from the hat”. It’s a 2D platformer! But it’s physics-based! And it’s got co-op! We’ve seen these themes surface dozens of times in independent games over the last few years, and the sense of deja vu alone that accompanied the opening minutes of Chariot was enough to weary me on the game. Indeed, Chariot’s is not a particularly unique or moving premise, but as I came to discover over the course of the game, it’s one that is executed with enough prim and polish to make for a decent week or two of cooperative gaming.

Chariot begins with the death of a King. Playing as the Princess, it’s up to the player to guide the King’s chariot to a suitable resting place. The chariot itself is a large vehicle that can only be moved by dragging the attached rope. Its two large wheels make it an awkward fit in many of the game’s environments, forcing players to push, pull, and yank their way around a number of environmental puzzles to proceed to the next area. Upon reaching each of your destinations, the King’s ghost will materialize and declare it unfit to be graced by his burial grounds, kicking off the next leg of your journey.

That’s about it in terms of story for Chariot, so it’d be unwise to go in hoping for something on par with Limbo or Braid. Instead, the depth of the game comes from its increasingly challenging navigational puzzles, and its potential for cooperative interaction. Players can interact with the titular chariot in a number of ways, the most basic of which is standing on it to reach high-up platforms. After you ascend, you can drag the chariot up behind you via the attached rope. Soon, a series of more complex challenges will present itself. You’ll find yourself dragging the chariot through complex geometrical corridors, pushing it up sheer inclines, and even riding downhill in some of the game’s faster segments.

Interacting with the chariot can be awkward at times due to the physics-based nature of the game. Things in Chariot operate with that floaty, not-quite-real-world game physics feel, which means that your charge will sometimes need just a little bit more than it should to get up that hill or through that pathway, and it’s not hard to find yourself in an awkward situation. In fact, the game seems to have been almost designed to foster awkward physics moments, since some of the puzzles seem to rely on pushing the chariot just so.

Having a co-op partner alleviates a lot of the stress that comes with navigating the chariot, and ultimately makes the game’s occasional wonky moments much more tolerable. Pulling the chariot up inclines in particular gets much easier when you have one player pulling from the top and another pushing from the bottom. The game’s slow pacing also benefits from the presence of another player to spice things up.

Chariot’s artwork and humor fall right in line with its relatively benign gameplay. On a technical level, the visuals are impressive. The game certainly has a style all its own, and it’s one that often looks better in motion than it does in screenshots. Clean as the artwork may be, it’s lacking in the stylish panache of its peers and does little to make the game stand out from the crowd. The same goes for the humor, which is often delivered via the King’s ghost. His jokey little quips as he rejects yet another resting spot, or critiques your chariot-pulling skills after a particularly bumpy ride, are charming in the most fluffy, inoffensive way possible.

Chariot never aspires to be anything more than a harmless little platformer, and in the end it settles almost a little too comfortably into its role. You won’t regret your time pushing and pulling the King to his resting place so long as it’s spent with a friend in tow, but you’re likely to forget it the moment you put the controller down. It’s a competent but unambitious physics platformer - nothing more, and nothing less.