Conan Chop Chop Early Access Impressions: See Them Driven Before You
Conan Chop Chop is a quirky, odd beast. It's a roguelite that plays like a combination of Castle Crashers and the original Legend of Zelda, but it has an art style reminiscent of the webcomic Cyanide and Happiness. Despite its cute aesthetic, Conan Chop Chop is also set in the world of Conan the Barbarian. Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, etc., etc.
Conan Chop Chop started out as an April Fool's joke and eventually evolved into a full-blown game. It sets out to press all of the same buttons as your favorite arcade brawlers. Here's what we think of the game as it moves toward its late-February release.
Slice and Dice
Here's how Conan Chop Chop plays out so far: the evil wizard Thoth-Amon summons a demon, and Conan (and friends!) have to stop it. You and up to three friends take control of these characters and run around an overhead map. You kill enemies with swords, axes, and spears, collecting treasure, and eventually make your way through some bosses before squaring off against the big bad.
If you die, you restart, possibly unlocking new weapons, armor, and skills that you'll be able to pick up in your next run. It's fast and breezy. It's also surprisingly difficult, at least on single-player.
In multiplayer, when someone's health hits zero, they drop all of their treasure and lie there until another player revives them. This can bring about a pretty fun metagame of trying to halfheartedly screw over your teammates so they get knocked out, allowing you to pick up their treasure before resuscitating them. Just know they'll be looking to do the same thing before long.
In single-player, you're done when your health hits zero. Some enemies have lightning-fast attacks and, if you get swarmed, death can come swiftly. Once you've figured out the game's combat a bit (and lucked into a decent starting weapon), things will start to fall into place.
The Art of Combat
For as simple as it looks, there's some pretty solid nuance to the combat in Conan Chop Chop. You have an overhead view of each screen, and you move between screens like you would in Legend of Zelda. You can only attack to the left or right, but you can angle your attacks up or down. Doing so essentially gives you six different attack angles. It is frustrating not being able to attack directly up or down, but them's the breaks.
You also have some sub-weapons at your disposal, like bows and bombs, and you can learn a few special moves and combos. Finally, you can also equip a few charms to give your character special abilities. You can set enemies on fire, resist poison, increase how much treasure you earn, and so forth.
Essentially, there are a lot of small ways to customize how you play Conan Chop Chop, adding up to big changes in style. This makes the multiplayer even more interesting — when these choices get multiplied across several players.
Running the Gauntlet
In order to get the chance to take down Thoth-Amon, you first have to set out across several different zones and defeat the bosses there first. You'll traverse through procedurally generated maps, searching for different dungeons. Each dungeon houses a giant, dangerous foe and a special artifact to collect that will help you advance through the next area.
You'll be able to fast travel between the central hub town and all of these dungeons, so you can always equip yourself with new gear and get more potions, for example, before delving in.
In general, bosses aren't terribly difficult. They hit hard and take up a lot of real estate, but a little bit of sitting back and playing defense will usually give you all the info you need to take them down. Block and dodge until you figure out how they move, then go in for the kill.
Bosses are even easier if you manage to find — or luck into starting with — a strong weapon. Every time you die, you start the next run with a random piece of upgraded equipment. On one run, I started with an incredibly powerful sword that killed almost every enemy I encountered in a single hit. Bosses were shredded almost instantly, and I had no need to play defense at all.
Conan Chop Chop is still in early access, but it seems likely that some of these balance issues will get ironed out before the game's full release. They certainly need to, because that's where its biggest problems are.
Hear the Lamentation of the Women
When a game features "die and go back to the beginning" as one of its primary elements, it's going to have a tough tightrope to walk. Since you'll be playing through the beginning a lot, it needs to be challenging, fun, and interesting right off the bat. Conan Chop Chop doesn't quite walk that tightrope gracefully.
The difficulty varies wildly depending on the type of weapons available to you at the beginning of each run. Starting with the sword that obliterates everything in a single hit makes the start of the run boring, but starting with a weapon that requires five or more hits just to destroy an inanimate object leads to tedium.
As it stands, this is really only an issue you face in single-player, but Conan Chop Chop also isn't really optimized yet for multiplayer.
The game is definitely designed to be a couch co-op game, which is perfectly fine. Gathering a group of friends to sit around and bash enemies into pulp is always a blast, but it's also not always feasible. The game was delayed to allow for full online cooperative play, but that option is not available at this point in time. On Steam, you can use the Remote Play option, but that comes with its own set of technical hangups.
If online multiplayer is a must, you may want to wait a bit to pick this one up. It is something the developers have said is on the way, however.
There's a lot of charm to Conan Chop Chop, but I'm not sure that charm can carry over in the long term. It's a fun little diversion, watching these cute little figures lay waste to hordes of monsters. Venturing through the wilderness with a powerful weapon to collect treasure is a tried and true video game staple for a reason. But the game's world randomization just rearranges where objects are placed; the game itself rarely changes, and there doesn't appear to be a huge push to alter that aspect.
That said, Conan Chop Chop still has about a month and a half to go until its full release. It's a goofy little couch co-op game that will definitely provide you and your friends with some mindless entertainment. If developer Mighty Kingdom is able to provide some support for the game and help beef up how much the player can do, then Conan Chop Chop has the chance to become something special.
[Note: Mighty Kingdom provided a preview copy of Conan Chop Chop for the purpose of this early impressions article.]