2D platformers have a reputation for being good party games: on the PlayStation 4 alone we’ve had the likes of Towerfall, Duck Game, Rayman Legends, and many more. While Ultimate Chicken Horse doesn’t buck this trend in terms of quality, its twist on the genre makes for a unique competitive experience that should become a staple for any game night.
As you can imagine by the name, players each play as their choice of seven different animals, ranging from raccoons to chameleons. The character designs for these are absolutely delightful (as well as their unlockable costumes) combining cuteness with character, and their respective sound effects are fantastic too – not least when holding triangle, the game’s dedicated dancing button. The game’s entire style, in fact, is chock full of personality: the simplistic, pastel-coloured levels pop while frantic jazz plays in the background.
The gameplay matches the style in terms of quality, of course, as well as its simplicity: every map has a start and an end goal that you need to reach, but you'll have to bridge the gap to the finish yourself by placing an object before every round. Basic platforming is tight, with running and jumping feeling responsive enough so that even the hardest jumps are navigable yet a sense of difficulty is still there. Still, the focus is on level creating, with each gameplay mode allowing a certain degree of freedom with its own little twist.
Party mode is easily the best of these. Each map has a start and end goal, and at the beginning of each round a Party Box is presented containing four random objects, be they helpful platforms or hindering hazards. Each player takes one item and places it wherever they want before the game gets underway, then everyone’s tasked with making it to the finish.
What’s great about this system is that, unlike other competitive couch games, you aren’t fighting your competitors while you platform, but instead trying to get to the finish first, which makes it a much less frustrating and much more inclusive party game. There’s an element of strategy too: do you focus on derailing your opponents with traps and risk failing yourself, or create a clear path to the goal and gift them an easy win?
This is further fostered by the Ultimate Chicken Horse’s scoring system, in which no points are allocated if every player finishes or no player finishes, encouraging you to take creative risks in order to kill off an opponent or two and get yourself points on the board. While points are given out for finishing, there are also bonuses for finishing first, carrying collectible coins that can be grabbed from the Party Box, and successfully killing your competitors with a trap.
Said traps are varied enough to affect gameplay without seeming overpowered. Ice and honey can be placed on existing platforms, but there are also spinning chainsaws, wrecking balls, black holes, crossbows, and more – all avoidable in one way or another, but also devilishly difficult to bypass when combined. What’s more is that bombs can be used in the planning stage to destroy existing hazards, keeping the competitive spirit continuing and keeping the gameplay environment ever-changing.
Creative mode is similar to Party mode in that all players place an object except they’re given the choice of any object in the game. Meanwhile, Challenge mode allows you to play an excellent selection of community-made maps – with or without friends – imported from PC, as well as the ones created inevitably on PS4. And finally Free Play lets you build your own and upload them. While Party mode is the obvious choice, the other modes are certainly worth playing if you want to make your own levels, and Challenge mode means that Ultimate Chicken Horse has a single-player element to it.
All of these modes are available on 12 different well-designed maps by the developer, ranging from waterfalls to old mansions – two of which are available from the start while the rest are unlocked through gameplay – as well as player-created maps. This may seem stingy, but developer Clever Endeavour Games’ unlock system is integrated into the game very nicely. In the game’s main hub, question marks will sometimes appear over a level, indicating unlockables to be found in the form of floating presents. This again adds a nice twist to the already-twisted gameplay: a fragile cooperation ensues in which players work together to grab the goodies before quickly turning on each other in order to win. Prizes range from levels to new characters to new outfits, and the unlocks come frequently enough and the levels are replayable enough to keep things interesting.
What’s nice about Ultimate Chicken Horse is that most of the options – bar the main menu – are integrated into the game’s hub: score weighting can be changed using in-game jumping pads, community levels are found on a computer in an underground lair, and players change their character costumes using an in-game dressing room. The game as a whole feels lovingly made, and while the general style is charming, the excellent gameplay is unashamedly front-and-centre.
A party title with great visuals, sound, and gameplay, Ultimate Chicken Horse is a great combination of conniving strategy and frantic platforming. With plenty of modes to play, maps to customise, and unlocks to go for, Clever Endeavour Games’ PS4 debut is as good for your wallet as it is for your sofa. An essential for any get together, the game’s well-tuned mechanics lead to pure animania.