Ultimate Chicken Horse
The recent renaissance of local or couch multiplayer games has brought with it some of the greatest titles in recent memory. Pool together a few mates in the same room and TowerFall Ascension is possibly the most fun you’ll have had since four-player GoldenEye. The same goes for Nidhogg, Rocket League and Gang Beasts, among others, and it’s into this pantheon that Clever Endeavour’s Ultimate Chicken Horse hopes to land.
The basic premise finds two-to-four players in control of an anthropomorphic barnyard animal with a simple Mario-style run and jump button combo. Each player must get their character from point A to point B, the rub being that the levels are nowhere near complete. With each turn, players can pick various objects to pepper the level in order to help, or indeed hinder, progress. Platforms, staircases and doorways are the former whilst crossbows, barbed wire and, em, hockey pucks are designed to make life more difficult for the farmyard friends.
It leads to a balancing act of making the level reasonably passable while trying to ensure it’s hard enough to kill off other players. However, with everyone getting in on the planning and construction gig, things can quickly become a logistical nightmare. Early games will likely find players painting themselves into a corner of rotating spikes and blackholes, bludgeoning themselves against a brick wall (quite literally in some cases) until everyone acclimatises to the game’s nuances.
Points are given for completing each run through with players tasked with running the gauntlet again and again until reaching a point threshold. This leads to each level getting progressively more cluttered, then cleaned up thanks to some handy bomb tools, then built up again, all while trying to keep a precarious balance of difficulty. You’ll also gain ground if one of your traps usurps a rival player but equally you’ll be penalised if you fall foul to one of your own devious contraptions.
It can lead to some riotous moments of utter carnage, close shaves, daring jumps and dumb luck that can certainly elevate a room like only the best multiplayer games can. Though it seems simple on the surface, levels will progressively show more and more depth, particularly as you forge your own path through them. It would be a stretch to say your imagination is your only limit, as the toolset certainly truncates this, but there’s more to Ultimate Chicken Horse than initially meets the eye.
Helpfully, there are also two main game modes; ‘party’ and ‘creative’. The former is the better for easing you into the game as it will limit your building choices to ones the game deems most appropriate for that moment. As you grow accustomed to it, you’ll then likely swap to ‘creative’ which gives you access to the full toolkit at all times. Each mode has its pros and cons and will largely depend on the overall ethos of the group. If someone is a little too trigger-happy with the traps then you may want to smooth things over with ‘party’ mode. If you’re having a few drinks at the same time, then we would definitely recommend it.
One of the main drawbacks is the aforementioned point-scoring system. Chief among them is the issue of awarding points for completing a level. Players can design the most torturous and maddeningly complicated levels but if everyone crosses the finish line then the game awards no points and labels the level as ‘too easy’. Conversely, if a player or two makes a balls-up with a simple and straightforward track then those who do manage to complete it will rack up some points – not for their cunning and skill, but for the idiocy of their competitors.
However, it’s only an occasionally annoying issue. Beyond that, Ultimate Chicken Horse is perhaps a little lacking in what it offers. There are unlockable levels and characters but the bare bones of the game is much the same regardless of the meat draped over it. This is, again, no big deal as players tend to ‘make’ the game themselves but it means that it’s a game best played in short bursts before a general malaise kicks in.
Ultimate Chicken Horse is a great concept and what is presented here is well executed. Solo players may want to wait for online play – which wasn’t available at the time of writing – but if you have the potential to snag a few mates and their joypads over then it’s definitely worth investigating. It’s unlikely to have the staying power of TowerFall or Rocket League, and its child-like design may put off older gamers, but Ultimate Chicken Horse is a fine addition to the local multiplayer genre.