Quebec-based Frima Studio is no stranger to indies on the PlayStation brand. For those who aren’t familiar, the developer made the entertainment Young Thor and A Space Shooter for Two Bucks for PlayStation Minis. It’s now crafted its very first PlayStation 4 title called Chariot – a physics-based, 2D platformer. In the game, a king has passed away, and his daughter and her suitor pay their respects after laying him to rest. However, the monarch’s spirit is stuck in the coffin, reasoning that he is not at his “proper” resting place. He tells his daughter and suitor to take him to his proper burial grounds, and to lavish him with riches to carry with him to Heaven. And so begins their journey – but is it one that you should ride shotgun on?
In Chariot, the main character is the king’s daughter, but you can play as her suitor instead, as both have different attack methods. This is an interesting game, as it’s essentially a release where you escort a coffin through well-designed environments. Normally, outings with “escorting” have rarely been entertaining – but this is quite the exception. The game kicks off with a solid tutorial that’s shown within the level’s background signs to help acclimatise you to its mechanics. Controlling either of the nameless characters, you’ll help push the chariot around, and defend it from nasty looters.
When escorting the chariot, tethering it and pulling it is your best bet. However, this is not as mundane as it sounds, and actually rather fun. For example, if you jump on a higher platform while attached to the wagon, you can either continue to pull it by moving forward, or reel it in yourself while applying some counter-movement to avoid losing footing.
Level designs are also very clever, adding various elements that add a little flair. For instance, there are “dead” rails, and since the king is deceased, his chariot can ride on these, whereas the human characters will go right through them as if they’re invisible. On the flipside, your characters can walk on “life” rails. Certain areas have you using your wits, and traversing between the two cleverly. It’s also rewarding to ride on top of the chariot when going downhill on steep slopes, which sometimes leads to timing your jump to a higher platform and tethering the wagon within a second to bring it up with you.
As you escort the chariot, you’ll find gems that can be collected in the environment. The interesting aspect is that you can only collect these with the king’s coffin. Gathering up the riches is fairly important, since you’ll be able to purchase upgrades that will help to unlock new passages for you to explore and new abilities to aid you in your quest. You can always go back and replay levels if you’d like to collect everything, and there’s even an option to start at specific entrances you might have come across. Within levels are also hidden skulls that can be collected, with a total of 75 to find.
Unfortunately, as you escort the chariot, looters will occasionally appear and try to rob the king’s newly collected gems. When this happens, you can fight them away with either the daughter’s sword or the suitor’s slingshot. The combat is simple but more than agreeable – you won’t even have to worry about taking damage, since the looters can’t attack you, and only aim to steal the king’s treasures.
When you complete a level, you’ll find yourself in contact with a skeletal figure, who provides some comic relief. He’ll give you some tips on equipment that you can upgrade, while providing humorous remarks about each of them. An example of an early upgrade is a lantern attached to the wagon for the dark areas of caverns, while another allows you to rappel down ledges without having to latch onto the carriage. You’ll even get different wheels to help traverse through certain terrains such as snow.
You won’t be able to just buy upgrades whenever you earn enough funds, though. Indeed, you’ll have to search and retrieve blueprints found within the levels. Commonly, you’ll find crates that magnetise to the wagon that must be delivered to a grinder in order to break open the box. Careful, though, as tipping the chariot upside-down starts an explosive timer on the crate if you don’t get it right-side-up in time. Should it explode, you can go back to where you found it and try again. You have to find a set amount of blueprints to be able to unlock purchasable upgrades.
One of the key components to Chariot is the ability to play co-op with a friend. Doing so really adds to the game, and makes it a really fun experience. Here, you can unlock new areas, similar to in one of Sony’s recent flagship platformers, LittleBigPlanet. The unfortunate part about the co-op, however, is that it’s strictly local. If you don’t have any buddies to come over and join in on the fun, you’re out of luck in this department. Regardless, the game is entertaining whether going solo or with a friend.
Moreover, the release’s visuals are simply beautiful and very well detailed. The title has a very nice colour palette, with nice animations and a silky smooth framerate. Characters are charming and nicely designed, while environments do a great job of depicting the setting. In all, it’s very appealing to the eye, and slightly reminiscent of Rayman’s UbiArt visual style.
In terms of audio, the king and skeletal character both have full voice-overs, and do a solid job of bringing life to these characters. The king is demanding, as it is in his nature, yet very cowardly when things go sour, while the skeletal character, as mentioned earlier, provides chuckles with his funny lines. There’s not much of a soundtrack to speak of, though, other than the atmospheric tunes playing in the background. Fortunately, the music picks up during combat, and adopts a medieval theme.
Chariot is quite the surprise. Its endearing style, smart design, and intuitive gameplay really hooked us, and we ended up having great fun in both single player and co-op. With a Platinum Trophy, and tons of content to tuck into, this is one carriage well worth riding.