If pulling a cart through a tomb is your idea of fun, then you have stranger hobbies than I do. Yet, Canadian developer Frima Studio, managed to take this very concept and turn it into a full-fledged platformer game complete with puzzles to solve and loot to obtain. And while it’s not perfect, I think applause is in order for making such a mundane task into an incredibly enjoyable game.
Chariot casts you in the role of either a princess or her fiance as they pull a cart containing the recently deceased king to the royal crypts to rest for all eternity. One wonders how these characters wear such joyous expressions in light of his passing, until you actually meet his overly demanding ghost, then you realize they might actually be happy to be rid of him. And because the king’s ghost is never satisfied with the places you take him to, you end up journeying further and further into the crypts to find the next sepulcher. If it was me, I would’ve let the cart roll down the hill and run for it, but I guess that’s why I’m not royalty.
When you start the game, the physics and mechanics are instantly reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet, though fortunately, the platforming is far less frustrating in Chariot. Your character can jump, push and pull the cart, and tie a rope around it and pull it that way. It’s an incredibly simplistic moveset, but as you get further into the crypts, you’ll find rails that will only let the character or cart pass (not both), holes that spawn looters that take your treasure, and buttons that require the weight of the wagon to open doors. You can’t get too far away from the cart though, and must take it with you all the way to the exit. It will automatically pick up treasure and collectibles if you pull it near those things, and it all becomes spending money once you get back to the main hub area.
Though Chariot is certainly playable with a keyboard, the game is designed with gamepads in mind, to the extent where if you plug in an Xbox 360 controller it will match the buttons with that of the console releases. It also supports local co-op, with a second player able to drop in at any time at the touch of a button. The game is definitely one that would be more enjoyable with an extra body present, which makes it that much more unfortunate that it appears to be local only. This makes sense for a console release (somewhat), but for a PC/Steam release, it simply begs for online functionality. Perhaps the modding community will put something together if such a thing doesn’t get patched in.
After finishing a stage, you wind up in a camp of sorts with a skeletal shopkeeper who offers to craft you new gear with the right blueprints. You also get an overhead view of the map and can replay any stage as much as you want. In fact, after completing a level, you may unlock a speed run form of it (in order to earn times for leaderboards) or an alternate entrance for you to explore. Plus, with the right collectibles, you may unlock an additional area. Twenty five stages doesn’t sound like a lot, but each one takes enough time as it is, and throwing collectibles and the potential of playing them again into the mix and you’ll find there’s plenty to do.
In fact, the level sizes are a bit problematic. They’re not technically that long, maybe ten or fifteen minutes (sometimes more) depending on how much exploration you do or if you’re confused at how to proceed. But it’s a game best played in small doses, and it doesn’t really allow for that. This is on top of segments that are unfortunately roped off if you don’t have a second player playing (again, like LBP). If you want to collect everything, even if you know where it is, you have a lot of ground to cover to get there. At least you can take certain collectibles back with you without having to finish the stage each time, just not the cash.
It may be because there’s not much happening during the game that makes the levels feel longer than they are. The music is inoffensive, but pretty much non-existent. And while both the chatty characters, the king and the shopkeeper, are good with their delivery, the former becomes something of a nuisance after some repeated dialogue. The whole experience is generally very quiet.
The cutesy art style is a bit more of a hit, with expressive characters who make up for their lack of words with a range of facial animations. They’re also way too happy to be doing what it is that they’re doing. The backdrops are very colorful though and provide some much needed diversity in the various stages.
At the end of the day, Chariot is a charming little platformer that has you and possibly a friend pulling a wagon across some graves. The levels can feel a little long at times and it seems like it’s missing an element of excitement as you journey along. That said, the mechanics are at least sound and the level design is very good and well thought out. If you have a buddy that’s willing to hover over your computer with you for an afternoon, Chariot‘s not a bad way to spend it.
Short Attention Span Summary
Chariot is a puzzle/platformer where up to two players pull a cart housing a recently deceased king around a crypt in hopes of picking up treasure and dumping it off in a place his ghost won’t whine about. The presentation is mostly well done, with a unique visual style, though it could use some work in the audio department. Likewise, the mechanics and level design are very solid, though the various stages feel like they drag on a bit. It also could’ve done with an online co-op functionality. Still, if you’re looking for an imaginative platforming experience for you and a friend, Chariot is a safe bet.