Party games and couch co-op are making a comeback. Competitive games like “Ultimate Chicken Horse” and “Towerfall” have had us throwing things at our friends for as long as there was an extra controller and room on the couch for an opponent.
“Heave Ho” switches it up by instead having you throw your friends at things. The newly announced game from French developer Le Cartel and publisher Devolver Digital is a goofy, colorful experience in which Mr. Potato-shaped heads with long arms and strong hands must work together to reach the goal.
It’s all-or-nothing, and every member of the team (up to four players) must avoid birds leaving droppings, spikes, and the bottomless void beneath the perilous platforms in order to reach the end of the level. Players can only swing their arms with the left thumbstick, gripping any part of the platform with the trigger buttons.
The trick is often to create long chains and use momentum to fling the team from one platform to the next. It requires exceptional communication to ensure that the right member of the team releases at the proper moment. More often than not, this results in the group plummeting to its death and colorful paint explosions.
Each run features five randomly chosen, hand-designed levels in one of a variety of biomes, including mountains, jungle, a canyon, caves, and space. These all feature their own hazards and features that push players to adapt to new strategies. In caves, there is no light, so you’ll only be able to see the area of the map immediately around players. In space, black holes will threaten to suck you in and disrupt progress. The jungle involves rope swinging peppered in with the platforms.
“Heave Ho” is one of those games that draws a crowd, with spectators cheering unexpected (and unlikely success) or cringing along with players as the team barely misses the next platform. And even if you don’t have an audience, it’s sure to to generate loud cheers and boos in the comfort of your home. It’s the kind of game that would drive friends to the breaking point if it weren’t so amusing and endearing.
The joy is amplified, with customizable characters that are cute nods to popular characters and celebrities, including Solid Snake (or Naked Snake, if you add an eyepatch), Lady Gaga, and Luke Skywalker. There are also different voices, but the misshapen characters of “Heave Ho” only seem to grunt in amusing fashion.
Le Cartel has approximately 50 different skins planned for launch. These are unlocked with coins found in the levels, and you’ll need to grab them and deliver them to the goal in order to get credit. Thankfully, they’ll respawn if you botch it, making them an enjoyable bonus target amidst the chaos.
“Heave Ho” isn’t Le Cartel’s first time ‘round with Devolver. The studio’s last project, was the ultra-violent pixelated brawler, “Mother Russia Bleeds.”
The team’s latest came out of a game jam organized by Est Ensemble, MediaLab 93 and The Beautiful Games around the theme of urban culture. Artist Alexandre Muttoni and designer Frédéric Coispeau came up with their own sub-theme that led them to “Heave Ho’s” goofy characters.
“The topic for our team was ‘street workout,’” Muttoni tells Variety. “The idea was to be outside and do a workout that only uses your arms without touching the ground.”
While the core of “Heave Ho” is about collaboration, Le Cartel is planning a versus mode that’s a race to the finish line. It’s still early in development, and the team is still ironing out the details.
It will feature hidden bonus modes. During the game, a golden rope will appear for ten seconds. If a player grabs it, it will kick off a randomly selected mini-game. One of these tasks players with cramming into a small area on the stage. The further you progress, the more coins you’ll earn to unlock new cosmetics.
Other mini-games include basketball and dancing. These are delightful, as they are set against a backdrop of a crowded theatre and sportsy organ music.
When it’s all over, “Heave Ho” gives you a moment to celebrate as your team’s clear time is displayed. But Le Cartel doesn’t want players to become too complacent. The end-of-game recap also shames the player that died the most before prompting you to dive back in and give it another try. And, if an early look is any indication, “Heave Ho” is likely to pull players right back in to try again.