In a world where adorable animals work together, or against each other, to reach the destined goal, Ultimate Chicken Horse is a game not to be taken lightly. Local and online multiplayer games are thriving this year as Rocket League, Gang Beasts, Tower Ascension and Mount Your Friends are a few of many that are becoming harder to put down.
Developed by Clever Endeavour Games, Ultimate Chicken Horse is a simple party platformer for 2-4 players that not only tests your platformer skills, but also your friendships, to a Super Mario Party degree. Oh, yes. You may start off with a piece of wood to lay the path of hope and reckoning out in front of you, but that first ‘Too easy. No points’ that pops up changes the game. It switches from Ultimate Chicken Horse to Ultimate Chicken Hunger Games, as the death of your comrades will bring you certain victory. So in come the rotating saw blades, and barbed wire, and black holes, and hockey puck launchers…anything just so you can be the ultimate animal and best those you once called friends.
Its design and mechanics are simple enough to enjoy without being too laborious. Even if you didn’t know what a particular trap does, a quick gif of it in action spells it out crystal clear. Whilst a nicely laid-out grid marks what areas you can place the item in, all the while allowing you to measure the distance between each point of contact, i.e. whether a platform is jumpable. Then using your designated keys, you can rotate the objects as well to make them more helpful, or more obnoxious. It’s your choice.
Of course, the point system is what also makes the competitive side of players rear their heads. Everyone who passes the finish flag will get a point, but the one that crosses first gets a bit more. Not only in this case but you’re marked with trap points (how many you killed with your trap), coin collection points, comeback points and Ultimate Chicken Horse even has a set of points for post-mortem victories, i.e. if you die and then fall into the finish; yep, you still get a point. This generous points system is more than justified if you’ve a group of friends like mine. On the whole, discounting server connection issues, we’ve possibly finished three games by someone actually winning. Everything else has been so booby-trapped that we’ll have two people score points and the rest of the time we’ll just die horribly traversing an impossible landscape of terror.
Considering I received this review code a month and a bit ago, so much has changed since that first testing game that I can’t help but be impressed by it. In a form that was originally limited and buggy, Clever Endeavour have since added new levels, better online private servers as well as public ones, new characters to be collected and plenty of bug fixes and patches going live weekly. Given this and the amount of positive feedback UCH has gotten, if they can create entirely stable servers that can support the influx of players at peak time they’ll have no problem in contending for game of the year. I’d bet my left hand on it.
With two modes, you can choose your level and create some absolute monstrosities, especially in creative. With over 25 benign and malicious objects to choose from, using three or four turns to create a wheel of doom or rotating arm of instant death is probably the easiest way to screw friends over – that and creating a barrage of arrows pointed directly across your path. Essentially, Ultimate Chicken Horse’s moto should be: You don’t play to win; you play to make sure everyone else loses…or perhaps I need to re-evaluate my mildly evil tendencies.
The art style is adorable, of course, using a washed-out colour scheme that’s easy on the eyes and looks like a mix between water-colour and paper art. Its levels are all designed similarly to begin with, i.e. Rooftops, The Farm, and Mansion, but after these the levels start getting trickier. For example, Waterfall makes you build across and upwards, and Nightclub flashes light and dark in strips which make it near-impossible to see through properly.
Where Ultimate Chicken Horse meets its currently difficulty is in its performance. Keeping in mind that the online is still in beta – which actually gives you little option other than couch party play otherwise – it definitely has problems holding its own. I guess due to some large YouTubers playing it, before Ultimate Chicken Horse flipped the switch on the Unity servers, hosting and connecting to games at peak time was near impossible. Even now the game will usually disconnect without warning and follow-up with either a game crash or severe lag in the lobby. Thankfully this problem is entirely temporary, so I can’t be too mad about it and just avoid late-night gaming sessions at peak time.
I will also say that without the new levels and characters and clothes, it has the potential to get a little repetitive in the long run, but hey, that won’t be for a while yet. Perhaps there’s the chance to unlock some more weapons after a while, or better still to open up modding abilities for characters and weaponry on Steam community. I can imagine things getting even funnier if that comes to light.
All in all, Ultimate Chicken Horse is a weirdly entertaining game. One that doesn’t appear to be much at first but once you get into it it’s addictive and fun and infuriating all at the same time. One piece of advice I’ll give is play it with a collection of good friends, whether that’s on the sofa or online. We’ve had more arguments and more screaming matches with this game than any in our libraries, but we’ve also had way more fun building devious death traps and impossible-to-traverse obstacle courses. And ultimately, it’s awoken the need to succeed and win that has lain dormant for far too long.
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