After a year of pandemic lockdowns, things are finally starting to open back up. People are steadily getting vaccinated, and soon we’ll all be able to have friends over again. What exactly should we do once we can have friends and family in our homes again, though? This brings me to games, which have helped us connect and stay together virtually during lockdown, so I feel they deserve a place once the dust has settled and normality begins anew.
Enter Ultimate Chicken Horse, an outrageously fun 2D platformer that is easy for anyone to pick up and play. The experience pits you against your friends and loved ones as you race your way across a level that you can adorn with traps, roadblocks, ice, glue, and anything else to keep each other from crossing the finish line.
It all seems cute at first, you pick an animal avatar and just have to race over simple levels to be crowned the ultimate chicken, or horse, or raccoon – I always pick the raccoon, dibbs. Levels start simple but grow more complex – two rooftops with a gap between them, a farm with a barn and silo, a winding waterfall, a dancefloor with a strobe light. There’s a start and endpoint alongside some level hazards, like a large drop, some farm equipment, or broken glass.
The twist is, instead of just racing across a pre-determined level, you and your friends get access to items you can use to build an obstacle course between the starting line and the endpoint. You receive points for finishing, for being first, and for killing others with your traps. If everyone finishes, however, no one gets any points as the game reasons the course must have been too easy. So, you have to make a route that only you can navigate. Things get pretty weird when multiple people are all trying to screw each other over.
At the start of each round, a box is shaken up and opened to reveal a host of goodies – platforms, girders, conveyor belts, things meant to make getting to the end easier. Next round there will be a trap or two, some ice, a crossbow that fires bolts infinitely, even a black hole. The start of each round is a race in and of itself, everyone rushes to grab whatever item may help them most. If you get an early lead then it’s in your best interest to prevent anyone else from succeeding, even yourself, so make the course as hard as possible. If one obstacle is stopping you dead in your tracks, grab the nuke and blast it out of the level.
It quickly goes from cute platformer to an unhinged death race as players place more and more outlandish obstacles in each other’s path. Do you try and fix the main route or do you build a separate one underneath and hope no one notices? Do you build traps to rack up kill points or just try and box everyone in at the start point? There are many different strategies to use, and what’s great about the game is how low the barrier to entry is. The only buttons are to move and jump, so people of any gaming ability can give it a go. The game gives bonus points to underdogs to stop one person running away with the lead too easily, so there’s always a chance for a comeback. Unlike other games with set party sizes, Chicken Horse is fit for 2-4 local and online players, so you can play with friends or randoms even if you can’t visit each other for a while.
Ultimate Chicken Horse is great because the rounds are quick, easy to play, and fun to watch. The rules are simple – win – and the levels become more outlandish as the rounds go on. Also, the difficulty is solely determined by the skill level of the people playing and is easily adaptable. Rather than having set difficulty levels, things adapts to your playstyle. If no one is winning, the box offers fewer traps and more demolition items, if too many people are winning the game offers more traps. It adapts so everyone is always being pushed a little bit, but not too much. There’s enough challenge to make it fun to lord your victory over your friends, but it isn’t so hard that only your gamer buddies will be able to play.
Me and my housemates have had a lot of fun with Ultimate Chicken Horse, both before and during lockdown. It’s silly enough that any rivalries formed are dismissed as soon as we put our controllers down, but while we play, we’re mortal enemies. When we’re allowed to have people over but bars are still fully booked, we’ll definitely be getting some pints in us and shouting angrily at the TV, because Ultimate Chicken Horse really is the ultimate party game.
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- TheGamer Originals
Issy is an avid film lover, writer, and game-player based in the UK. He combines his love of film and games in his writing, trying to find as many connections between the two mediums as possible. When he’s not writing, playing, or watching, Issy loves to DJ and look after his growing collection of houseplants, as they make him feel more adult.
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