During E3 I had the pleasure of meeting with Martin Brouard from Frima Studios to discuss the indie platforming title Chariot. Afterward, I was able to go hands-on for nearly a half-hour. Spoiler: I couldn't stop smiling.
Martin Brouard: I’m the Executive Producer for Chariot. It’s a platformer, a couch co-op platformer that’s coming out on Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, and PC this fall.
Jack Gardner: Awesome! And we can see it right behind you there. From what I understand the general premise is that a king or emperor has died and you're taking him to his final resting place?
MB: Right, you play as a princess and you are accompanied by your very trusty fiancé and before going on with your life, you have to, you know, put your dead father to rest in a really nice sepulcher. But the king is actually back as a ghost and the chariot that you are bringing around everywhere; it’s a coffin on wheels. The king is there and he keeps complaining that you are leaving treasure behind or that you cannot possibly think of burying him here because it is not a proper, kingly place. He always wants more treasure and more interesting places, so that’s how you progress through different levels. [There are] five different environments, 25 levels of exploration. And it is couch co-op so you play both characters. You can play solo, but it is really made for having fun with a friend at home.
JG: What different mechanics can we expect to see out of Chariot?
MB: The big difference between Chariot and other platformers that we know and love is that it’s a physics-based platformer with a chariot is at the center of it. You need the chariot because that’s what picks up all the loot; that’s what is at the center of the game. So, you’ll push it; you’ll pull it; you’ll use this rope mechanic to pull the chariot, to give some rope to your friend to dangle over a precipice. To try to jump into hard to reach areas. There is lots of exploration. You use the chariot to jump on it, to roll down slopes. [You will have] one special item that you choose for every level, one per character, you use these items to do special moves. There is an attractor, a repulsor, a peg so you can attach your rope to a little escalation peg. There’s something that slows down time and speed boots. By combining these items, one on each character, you can pull off some really fantastic moves and that’s where the fun is.
JG: And there is no online co-op or just couch co-op?
MB: It’s too… it just wouldn’t make sense for us. It’s really a game where you want to have fun with the person sitting next to you. And be arguing over, “We should be going over there,” “No! Let’s go over there. There is probably something hidden there,” “Alright, alright.” It just wouldn’t be the same over the internet.
JG: What is your favorite part of Chariot?
MB: My favorite part is definitely when you see some hard to reach area and you’re like, “Okay, we’ve got to get over there,” and you need to figure out a way, but there are different ways to achieve that. Sometimes you’ll try to pull out some really crazy move, and you will try and try again. When after fifteen minutes of trying you finally pull off that move, this is just so satisfying. High-fives all over the place and it is a great satisfaction. Also, the humor. Right now this is an alpha-build. It’s not finished.
JG: Wow, that looks great for an alpha-build!
MB: Thank you! But the voice overs aren’t implemented yet. There is a lot of humor coming from the king who is interacting with you. He is kinda acting as a chaperone, you know, his daughter with this guy. He’s there to keep an eye on you and make sure you don’t leave any loot on the table.
JG: And collecting the loot is how you unlock the gadgets and get the different abilities?
MB: You actually get the gadgets by finding the blueprints and special collectibles. Between every level you’ll be meeting with a merchant on the surface. He’s a skeleton dude, I don’t think he even realizes that he’s a skeleton, but he’s improving your stuff in exchange for your loot. For example, if you want to go to the lava levels, you’ll need to make sure that your chariot becomes fireproof. For that you’ll need to find blueprints that are hidden somewhere in the game, but then you also need to give the blueprints to the merchant along with some of your loot, which the king doesn’t like too much. When you part with the blueprint and [pay the merchant], he’ll upgrade the chariot and it will be able to float in lava. Same thing with the ice caverns and other levels. You can also improve your gadgets up to three levels. For example, the repulsor which is basically something that throws the chariot super hard with physics, when you are at level three it really shoots the chariot very far. So, if your friend is standing on it and then you’re shooting it, it’s pretty awesome.
JG: Are there enemies in the game? So far I haven’t seen any.
MB: Well, it’s not a fighting game, but there are enemies. They're called looters. They will not attack you. They will only attack the chariot, try to grab your loot, and run away with it. So your job is basically to dispatch them as quickly as possible or run away before they steal too much of your loot, because that’s also your score. The princess has a sword, so she’s a close-range character and the fiancé has a little slingshot so he is a ranged character. A lot of times, one player will try to get out while the other will defend, so that leads to some fun little combat scenes, but it’s not at the heart of the game. There are four different enemies. Some of them are even trying to steal the chariot! [laughs]
JG: Is it an open-world, Metroid-style game?
MB: No, no. The way it works is there are 25 different levels scattered over five different environments. These environments are unlocked when you upgrade the chariot, but there are different entrances and exits in certain levels that sometimes unlock speed runs you can complete for special rewards and leaderboards.
JG: So how does that work, is there a hub where you access each level?
MB: Yes, there is a map that is currently very placeholder, but every time you find an exit it opens up the path to a new level. Sometimes you find different exits in different levels. There is a lot of exploration there.
JG: Well it looks incredible. I can’t wait to play it!
MB: Thank you very much, you can play it right now! [laughs]
And play it I did.
Even in early alpha Chariot is almost overwhelmingly charming. The art design is great and does a great job conveying humor and lightheartedness even without dialogue. Levels are cleverly constructed to interact with the chariot and the players in interesting ways. For example, there are certain surfaces that will be solid for the player, but not the chariot and vice versa. The rope mechanics and physics feel statisfying and it feels really rewarding to overcome obstacles with a co-op partner.
Recently there have been people expressing a desire for non-violent games to play with family or just as an alternative to the omni-present shooter genre. Though Brouard said that there were looters in Chariot, in nearly a half hour, I never saw a single one and still enjoyed myself immensely. I would feel very comfortable sitting down with my young nephews and playing this along with them. Brouard was right, Chariot can be played alone, but it is meant to embody cooperation and going it alone seems miss a bit of the magic that Chariot has to offer.
Keep your eye on Chariot. It releases this fall on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC.