Title: Heave Ho
Developer: Le Cartel Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Genre: Action, Platformer, Arcade, Strategy
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Audience: PEGI 3
Release Date: 29/08/2019
Price: £8.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
The local co-op revolution received quite the shot in the arm when Nintendo released the Switch two and a half years ago. The fact that every system came with two controllers made it the perfect place for local co-op games. Now, with the release of Heave Ho, we add another one to the long list of couch co-op games of the last few years. But does this one stand out from the pack, or does it get lost in the shuffle? Read on in this Rapid Review to find out.
Heave Ho is a delightfully simple game, using the two arms attached to your head you must traverse dangerous chasms, spikes, and other hazards to reach your goal. Controls are simple enough that anyone can pick up and play, but mastering the game will be hard, even for seasoned gamers. You’ll grab onto anything and everything you can get your hands onto to pull yourself along, climb, fart, and swing your way across the numerous levels that the game has to offer.
Each set of five levels (referred to as “runs”) in Heave Ho introduces a new quirk to how you’ll think about and make your way through the game. The start of the game is simple and focused on helping players build their basic climbing and swinging skills. In later levels, you’ll come across rotating platforms and ropes that can be used to live out your George of the Jungle dreams. Later levels do become quite difficult, relying on timing and quick reflexes to complete, which can become quite challenging for more casual players.
However, that shouldn’t scare anyone away because Heave Ho makes many concessions to help less skilled players through its levels, without compromising the core experience. The most basic of which is the assist gloves which helpfully indicate which button controls which hand. That way, no matter what way your character is oriented, you’ll be able to release the correct button. The next assist that you are likely to encounter takes the form of a life raft that players can ride across the level. The raft can be summoned by the first player to reach the goal, by pulling a plunger that emerges from the bottom of the goal.
It isn’t a free ride though, those on the raft will still need to steer and avoid obstacles littered about the stage. It is still very possible to fall to your (very juicy) death. The other main assist you will see only appears if you take more than 10 minutes to complete a level. A grabbable pathway will appear that you can easily latch on to which allows you to overcome any obstacles that may be halting your progress quickly. While it does allow you to easily bypass the more challenging levels, for the sake of creating an enjoyable experience for everyone, it is a smart and unobtrusive choice. The best part is, they don’t penalise you in any way for using the assists either!
The game seems primarily designed for local co-op, though it does have a solo mode. In co-op, you can work together with your teammates to make your way through the treacherous levels, holding hands and giving each other a boost to reach that next platform. In some ways, this makes the game easier, as you’ll have less difficulty reaching distant objects, while in others, it can lead to communication errors and frustration with your partner(s). Playing with my girlfriend saw both of us inadvertently dropping, throwing, or pulling the other to their death numerous times, leaving us cackling. Adding two more people to that scenario could only create more chaos. She often had trouble with using the physics to swing and launch her character, so I would grab her character and swing us both along, or toss her to the next platform. Then I would use the dedicated fart button to launch her to her death.
Another delightful element is the art style. Being a multiplayer game, character customisation is important, and they did a fantastic job with Heave Ho. Though your character is only a head with arms, you can customise the colour, features, voice, and costumes that each character wears. You start the game off with very basic customisation options, but as you play levels, you’ll be able to collect coins. If you escort a coin to the end of a level, you can redeem it for a new costume. They range from classics like Santa to other Devolver Digital games, so there are quite a few to choose from if you can get all the coins.
The art for the rest of the game is pleasant too. Each run of levels has its own aesthetic that it tries it’s best to match with the mechanics of those particular levels. The best instance of this, I felt was the circus level, which introduced rotating platforms. The contrast between the platforms and background was quite striking, and the use of spotlights brought the stage to life. There is a nice variety of art styles used in the environments as well, which does a great job of keeping the game feeling fresh as your progress.
The music is also catered to each level and builds on itself just as the mechanics do. Each run starts with a simple drum track and adds a new instrument on each level after. I never found any tracks that stood out from the others, but the music was all incredibly pleasant to listen to, even for runs that took 20 minutes or more to complete, when it wasn’t being drowned out by the sound of strategising or laughter.
My biggest complaint about my time with Heave Ho isn’t anything to do with the game. Instead, it is about how awful the Joy-Cons are. The game’s primary controls are the shoulder buttons and stick, which after a short time resulted in some very cramped hands. Even my girlfriend, who has smaller hands than I do, complained when she tried using the left Joy-Con. The answer to this issue may be to simply put the game down and do something else to relieve those aching hands, but the game is so fun that you won’t want to put it down. Alternatively, you can use larger and more comfortable controllers to play it.
I can easily recommend Heave Ho to people who often play couch co-op games with friends or family because it’s incredibly fun and easy to pick-up, while still offering a challenge. I don’t remember the last time I had this much fun playing a local multiplayer game. It’s a harder recommendation for those who will only play the game solo, as all the levels seem designed with multiplayer in mind without much reward for solo play. The game is by no means impossible alone; it is just best enjoyed with a friend or three.
Now if this team could just collaborate with the Mount Your Friends Developers…