Chariot, by Frima Studios, is a “couch co-op platformer that can be played alone or with a friend,” which sounds like it would be a perfect fit on a Nintendo console. The concept revolves around exploration, platforming, royalty, and death; quite the interesting combination. In the end, does it truly fit into the Wii U eShop catalog?
Visuals – 8.75/10
Simply put, I really enjoyed the visuals in Chariot. Great color usage, character designs, and decent level details really do shine through in this aspect.
I first want to speak on the colors used, since I’m such a huge color fanatic. Though the player is navigating cavernous landscapes throughout the entirety of the game, and the level isn’t always “colorful,” the usage of the color palette in this title is very well done. Great color usage does not mean using extremes – ridiculously bright colors or deep, “realistic” ones – but rather, means that there is a decent variety of colors and proper usage of said colors. Chariot really delivered on this.
One level would be laden with drab browns and olive greens, only to lead to the next section, which would consist of neon blue “flowers” and bright green foliage. The color variety between levels never got dull.
What also really caught my attention was the art direction and character designs in the game. Though enemies weren’t too innovative, the main protagonists are charmingly done, with other key characters living up to the same standard. All the designs have a very “squished” feel – in a good way – and are incredibly…well, they’re cute.
Animations are exceptional, with just a few clunky ones here and there; overall, the game runs very smoothly. Throughout my experience with the game, I didn’t run into any frame rate dips or other visual hiccups.
I have one complaint, and it is fairly minor (thanks to the wonderful color usage): the level designs were a little boring. Despite the excellent color usage, the actual designs for most of the game were just a little too simple. There were different sections that stood out (some levels in the second “cave” were very nice), but overall, I feel that the visual flare found in the character designs and colors was absent in regard to the landscapes. Otherwise, I greatly enjoyed the charming, playful, and colorful visuals.
Audio – 8.75/10
The music in Chariot is decent, with nothing sticking out, in either a good or bad way. As I write this, I find it hard to recall any compositions; none of them making their home in my head to entertain me the rest of the night. The music isn’t bad, though, fitting the feel of the game decently.
Where the music didn’t really stand out, the audio cues and voiceovers were very well done. Every grunt, crash of the Chariot, and ambient noise is well placed. I found [odd] pleasure when falling long distances to hear a wooden crash and the King gasping in pain, then scolding his heirs to the throne. Not only are the cues well placed, they are simply great recordings that hold the same charm that the visuals display.
And speaking of charm, I greatly enjoyed the cheesy, over-the-top voice acting in Chariot; my favorite character was by far the wise-cracking, hokey skeleton. Usually, in a 2D platformer, there are little to no voice overs, with the story either being driven by visual cutscenes alone or dialogue boxes. This is not the case with Chariot, as some of the characters are given voices, such as the King and the skeleton.
I was ok with the protagonists being of the silent variety: revealing their frustrations with the King through sighs and tired looks, or joy in excited looks and a smiling face. But what pushes the audio from good to great is the ridiculous dialogue and voice acting that accompanied it. To this, I say, “Well done!”
Gameplay – 8/10
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Chariot from a gameplay perspective. As always, 2D platformers have to incorporate something unique or exceptionally well done (or both!) in order to stand out among the plethora of 2D platforming indie games on the eShop. Chariot does this, in a way, thanks to the purpose of the entire game: the player must transport a chariot containing the remains of the former king to the perfect place of rest.
This simple objective leads to some fun gameplay that is fairly unique. Whether playing single player or with a friend, the mechanics and physics work well, delivering a fun experience that most assuredly stands out amongst the other titles on the eShop. Though the game does open up a bit more when playing multiplayer, the single player mode is good as well.
The player navigates various caves, divided into different sections; pushing, pulling, and riding the chariot all along the way. Thanks to a handy rope, the player can pull the chariot up on ledges, as well as using it for some other added features (which are unlockable). Between each section (or level), a brief journey to the surface allows for the purchase and usage of items, upgrading, and the option to select whatever section is desired to play next. Once a level is beaten, the option to enter the cave from a different point is made available, as well as a speed run option. These options add re-playability to Chariot, as well as encouraging the player to do some more exploration.
As the player navigates each cave, there are various treasures to collect: skulls, coins, and gems/crystals. But, it isn’t all just about exploration, as there are enemies looking to plunder your spoils. Luckily, you’re equipped with a sword to slash away at the little looters. This is, sadly, where I found the gameplay to stumble a bit. I would’ve been perfectly fine with exploration and booty-grabbing (come on, keep it clean!); the added action/fighting draws away from the charm of the game. It felt out of place and ended up being more annoying than anything. There were many times when I would be simply trying to get around the chariot to reach the enemies and take care of them before losing any more loot, only to accidentally move the chariot into the enemies.
Though the gameplay is unique, I must admit it did get a little tiresome towards the end of the game. There weren’t enough additions to keep the gameplay fresh the whole way through; the game can easily be completed without the additions and unlockables for purchase on the surface. Thankfully, this didn’t drag the gameplay down too much, and I still had a good time with Chariot.
Entertainment Factor – 8.25/10
Though there were some dull moments in gameplay towards the end of the game, my overall experience with Chariot was very enjoyable and simply fun. This is a unique platformer with a lot of charm. It is clear to see it was developed with care. The story isn’t anything mind-blowing, but it is told well enough: a princess and (optional) prince are dragging their king’s remains (via chariot) to his final resting place. Along the way, the King forces his heirs to find the perfect spot for him to bid his farewell to them; the interaction between them is quite comical.
I found myself chuckling quite often, thanks to the terrific voice acting and endearing dialogue created for the title. In addition to excellent voice acting, I found enjoyment in both the exploration aspect of the title and the speed-run mode for each level. At the writing of this review, I’ve put in a solid 10 hours of play with plenty of exploring left to do.
However, one thing I wasn’t too thrilled with was the usage of the GamePad; off-TV play worked well and was nicely done, but there wasn’t much implementation of the Pad itself. There could’ve been some nice innovations to incorporate with the GamePad to make this version of Chariot stand out amongst the other platforms.
Chariot is definitely a worthy title for any Wii U owner’s collection. There is plenty of content, excellent overall art design, superb color usage, unique gameplay, and enjoyable voice acting. It’s few shortcomings – average musical compositions, dull overall level designs, and gameplay which doesn’t evolve too much – aren’t nearly enough to alter the level of enjoyment to be had. Whether playing by yourself or with a friend, Chariot is worth dragging your money to the eShop. Chariot releases today (January 8th) on the Nintendo eShop, for $14.99.
Overall – 8.5/10