Title: Ultimate Chicken Horse
Available On: Xbox One, PS4, Microsoft Windows
Played On: Xbox One
Developer: Clever Endeavor Games
Publisher: Clever Endeavor Games
Official Site: https://www.cleverendeavourgames.com
Release Date: December 15, 2017 (Xbox One version)
Where To Buy: Steam, Console Online Shops, Local Retailers
My favorite party games are all about crazy, accessible fun on the outside while hiding some deeper strategy and skill on the inside. Ultimate Chicken Horse is a shining example of how to cater to players on both sides of the entry barrier.
Ultimate Chicken Horse is a level-building and platforming game that distinguishes itself as a party game in one crucial way: players build the level round-by-round instead of all at once. You start with a level of mostly blank space, and each round players drop two items apiece into the world. You then attempt to maneuver cute animal sprites through the level using the pieces you created. Next round, you add more stuff to the level, and so on. If all players make it to the goal, no one scores points. But if only some players make it, they get points, as does anyone who successfully placed a trap or found a bonus coin.
Originally released for PC back in 2016, Ultimate Chicken Horse recently came to Xbox One and Playstation 4 in December 2017. A Nintendo Switch version is also planned for some time in early 2018. I was able to play on the Xbox One. Each platform supports online multiplayer, but only PC and PS4 support cross-play.
The first thing I noticed about the game is its cheeky aesthetic design. The eponymous chicken and horse sprites are cutesy and accessible, but they’re also a bit vengeful. They dance mockingly when they win and die spectacularly when they lose. It’s a simplistic art style that nonetheless made me laugh in the early hours.
The first gameplay element that came to mind as I tried out Ultimate Chicken Horse was its low barrier of entry. In the main game mode, aptly named Party Mode, players are given a random box with four building pieces in it. These could be platforms of various shapes or dangerous hazards, among other things. Each player chooses one piece and places it in the level. Then a second box is presented, and players repeat the process. Next, it’s time to attempt the course.
Level-building games can be fun but also intimidating. Ultimate Chicken Horse removes this fear by presenting players with a handful of pieces at a time, letting them try out the level bit by bit to see what might need to be changed. Instead of being asked to create an entire self-contained, practical level using hundreds of pieces, you get to have fun challenging yourself and your friends with just a few additions at a time. Injecting enjoyable platforming into the middle of the process, rather than just at the end, is a crucial step Ultimate Chicken Horse makes to make the game more accessible.
Party Mode perfectly isolates the core fun of level-building games and streamlines it, removing the intimidation and the skill floor. Suddenly, anyone can create a level and have fun doing it.
For those who want a bit more freedom, Creative Mode lets players access any building piece they want, but they still play just a couple at a time before attempting the level. Free Play is for the true level builders, giving you complete control over the creation process.
As I continued to play, I realized Ultimate Chicken Horse packages an exciting amount of strategy into its party system. Do I close off the easiest path so my opponent can’t use it? Will one more crossbow here be enough to deter him? Should I remove that wrecking ball so I can reach the bonus coins? But what if he realizes and gets there first?
Party Mode offers a riveting and ever-increasing test of platforming prowess and planning ahead. Once you’ve built up a lead, you could choose to simply shut down the path and make things impossible for your opponent. But the game never lets itself get broken for long: new ways can be opened, and the bomb items allow opponents to blow away unfairly placed pieces.
My own experience with Ultimate Chicken Horse is a good illustration of its broad accessibility and potential for a higher level of play. I played the game with three roommates and my fiancée. Our experience with platformers ran from plentiful to none, but Ultimate Chicken Horse captured each of us nonetheless.
I soon began to keep playing because I wanted to build more challenging obstacles for myself. My fiancée played because she liked the cute sheep character. One roommate played because he wanted to troll everyone else by blocking the way forward. One guy just liked watching everyone die. Somehow, it all worked together wonderfully.
As player interest grows, so do the game’s options. A total of 12 maps can be unlocked, each offering a unique challenge. In the Pier, a dangerous wave sweeps in from left to right. In the Jungle Temple, a huge bonus coin triggers booby traps reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. The hardest map of all, Dance Party, renders half the playing field invisible with a moving light-and-shadow effect.
There are unlockable animals and numerous outfit combinations for each. Serious level-builders can upload their creations to the servers, and adventurous platformers can take on challenges that others have created. There’s truly something for everyone in Ultimate Chicken Horse.
Because most of the game’s experience rests in the players’ hands, the game has close to infinite replayability. Each and every encounter will be unique. You’ll never build the exact same thing twice, especially in Party Mode. This game alone is making me consider investing in more controllers.
The platforming can be a little slippery at times. It’s not the tightest movement system you’ve ever seen, which can be a bummer when you just run off an edge into spikes when you meant to jump. However, I’m willing to bet that this slipperiness was intentional since the party game atmosphere is sustained when players die a lot.
In ruthless contests where no one can reach the required point total quickly, the game can drag on a little bit. Smaller maps can become absolutely cluttered with pieces until you don’t know where else to put something. The game usually provides ways to get out of these jams eventually, but sometimes I wish the games progressed a little more quickly.
Verdict: Ultimate Chicken Horse is a masterful blend of party-game madness and surprisingly intense strategy. Level building has never been more accessible or satisfying, and the platforming is fun if a bit slippery. Sporting massive replayability, Ultimate Chicken Horse is well worth the $15 price point.
- Streamlined level-building for everyone
- Fun and challenging platforming competition
- Strategy if you want it, simplicity if you don't
- Fun art style
- Lots of ways to play
- Slippery platforming control at times
- Games can occasionally drag on