Ultimate Chicken Horse review: A worthy and chaotic addition to Steam's co-op library
It's no secret a good chunk of Steam users are hungry for good co-op and friendly head-to-head multiplayer games on the platform -- and they are especially ravenous for online multiplayer features in indie titles.
Ultimate Chicken Horse is one of many answers to the community call for online co-op on Steam, but it's one to remember if you really like making your friends miserable.
Ultimate Chicken Horse is a party platformer with a twist, that twist being the fact you and any other players must build the levels piece by piece. A level's basic terrain, gimmicks, and start and finish areas already conveniently placed. It's up to you and your buddies to build the way! With a mixture of safe platforms, coins, and murderous traps that are sure to betray you more than you'll ever admit.
So how does this whole "you build the levels" thing work?
There are two primary modes in Ultimate Horse Chicken: Party and Creative.
Both modes are fundamentally the same. You and the other players pick an item, place it, then try to survive (hopefully with coins in tow) from start to finish. Once every player has either reached the finish line or died, it's time to choose items again.
Party Mode gives players four random items to choose from the Party Box. Creative Mode allows you to choose any item available. Party is the default and more "in the spirit" of the game, but Creative is great if you and your friends want to build an elaborate stage.
Creative Mode's inventory.
Most of the items available are, befittingly, deadly obstacles -- and playing well means making good use of these obstacles to kill off other players without getting killed yourself.
Building and subsequently playing the levels is a very simple affair with no special learning hurdles, making Ultimate Chicken Horse easy to pick up for gamers of all ages and experience levels -- but actually traversing and surviving a level in the thick of it can take considerable skill if you or any of the other players have been particularly devious with item placement.
A party game through and through
Ultimate Chicken Horse is not meant to be a single player affair.
There is no default single player mode, but it is possible to use the game's convenient Shared Controller Couch to take turns placing items and platforming between multiple characters. This may suffice for those who just want to make levels, but it's ultimately an unsatisfying way to experience the game.
How else will you mourn friends fallen to your traps?
The real beef lies in playing with other people and competing to win. You set a number of turns each player has to rack up enough points (which have no real numerical value and are obtained via surviving while other players die) to take home the crown. If everyone survives, no one gets any points. This, and bonus points based on coin collecting and players hitting your traps/obstacles, makes things tricky.
I'm ashamed to admit I've lost several rounds to friends just because they've taken obscene risks to get coins while I simply focused on finishing. It just goes to show even super competitive platformer players can be terrible at the game thanks to the additional points awarded by coins and trap deaths.
This is a game you want to play with other people, and its current online multiplayer beta is certainly serviceable if you don't have any real life party gaming buds. Developer Clever Endeavor Games are ironing out online play's bugs as I type, but even in its current state it's still functional and fun.
A worthy co-op purchase
Ultimate Horse Chicken may not be a great buy if you're not looking for a game to play with friends, but it quickly elevates to "BUY ME NOW" status if you and your friends want a new game to make each other miserable in.
The game features a number of unlockable levels that have enough variety in size and innate obstacles to keep things interesting, as if player-placed traps and platforms weren't varied enough.
Speaking of unlockables, there are also unlockable characters and outfits! There's nothing like being a dapper horse standing at the finish line and smack-talking your friends who are having trouble as if your inclination to rush and big mouth isn't why you keep losing in the first place.
All in all, Ultimate Horse Chicken would fit snugly in any Steam co-op library. At a cool $14.99 the game offers more fun than you can shake a raccoon at, provided you're not going at it solo. My one wish is the ability to save levels in Creative Mode, and that may still be in the cards. Maybe one day.