Heave Ho is the decidedly less violent new game from Paris based development team Le Cartel Studio, published by Devolver Digital. What do you look for in a co-op game? For us, it’s the ability to have a complex back and forth to work out a strategy for completing a grueling task. A lot of trial and error and barely suppressed rage, and that can be a lot of fun.
Here’s our embarrassing first try scores, we’ll give them another go in time.
Heave Ho is a simple but effective concept for a game. You play a monstrous head with two protruding arms coming out of each side who has excellent upper body strength. You can grip onto any surface and your job is to climb, swing and shimmy your way from point A to point B in a series of increasingly difficult stages and worlds. There’s a solo mode but we stuck mostly to co-op as it was similar but had a whole new dynamic and challenge to it that we found to be effortlessly appealing. This was due to the addition of an “object” (usually a shiny coin) you can take with you to the finish line. This adds to the challenge. How do you climb with an object in your hand? Well, what we discovered works is that we both grip onto the object and use teamwork and coordination to get to the end.
A lack of communication.
And that’s the key: Teamwork. The game forces you to work together and communicate to survive. Even the simple mantra of “left, right, left, right” became a common utterance. The game’s fair in how you approach the obstacles in that, while there’s usually a primary solution to the challenge, it’s not the only one. In one stage there’s a stairwell of platforms that each electrified in a continuing sequence. At the top was the finish line. Going at it solo was pointless as we couldn’t escape the danger fast enough. What did we do? After an ordeal, we decided to lock hands and climb as one. We covered more ground this way and outran the sequence. And on another stage, Richard just launched Kelsey towards the finish line by accident and it worked. We tried that a few more times and sometimes it worked, most times it didn’t. The game fosters teamwork and it’s so gratifying to pull off a stage well. On the flip side, when communication broke down it was like the Fall of the Maya, complete anarchy. And, to be honest, that was fun to.
It was fun because Heave Ho’s fun. Because climbing, swinging and shimmying your way to victory is fun. The gameplay’s fluid and easy to understand. One joystick controls both arms, but this wasn’t the learning curb we thought it’d be. The game slowly allows you to become acquainted with the physics and mechanics of the game by putting you in scenarios that allow you to develop your skills naturally. Each new mechanic is introduced to you slowly and, when you’re accustomed to them, the game ramps up the challenge and test you. We learned quickly that how we’re gripped on to one another affects how much reach and dynamic movement we’d have, so we always tried to grip onto the very tips of each other’s hands. It’s not perfect, however. It can be fidgety with how you control you’re arms and we’d often find ourselves getting tangled up and be unable to reach outwards. This didn’t happen very often, but it was very frustrating.
A lucky catch in the circus world.
Each new world focuses on a different mechanic that can be used to complete the stage. One world, appropriately circus themed, has rotating platforms and often relies on you swinging around in circles to generate enough momentum and throw yourself towards a platform. Another world has invisible platforms and you must utilize trial and error and even the cartoony blood you shoot out every time you die in order to reveal where each surface is, showing how sometimes it helps to die a few times; but would affect the end time of runs. The leaps of faith in this section were some of the tensest moments in the game for us. These initial runs introduce us to the mechanics and let us get used to them before we move onto the more physically demanding versions of the same worlds. These worlds take what you know and test it. Comfortable swinging over a bed of spikes? Okay, how about we add more spikes and less room to swing. Along with each new world was new music to match it, mostly fun acapella in a similar style the Rayman Legends/Origins games.
Our least favorite world was Sakura themed one as it had a noticeable sharp difficulty spike along with a rolling boulder mechanic that was awkward to get a handle on.
…We gave up getting this coin.
The game has some additions that either help us out or makes things worse. Pulling a rope allows you to access some minigames that, while short, are nice ways to switch up the gameplay with a different goal. Every now and again a llama will walk by and fart a thick green cloud that encompasses the low right-hand corner of the screen. We found this more tedious than challenging as we’d just end up hanging there waiting for the smog to clear. After ten minutes, what we dubbed the “pity rods” would appear. These beams can be grabbed and make for an easier route to the goal. Most of these made it far too effortless to get to the end as sometimes it’d just forge a direct pathway to it. But… we’d be lying if we said we didn’t use them every now and again. Our most frequently utilized addition is the balloon. If one player gets to the finish line before their partner, then they can pull a cord that summons a balloon. Players can use this to fly across the map and get to impossible to reach locations. One person getting to the finish line and pulling the cord became a common strategy as a lot of the game seems to encourage this approach (the flying mechanic being featured heavily in the final world). A lot of the time, the object is out or each and using the balloon is the seemingly only viable approach. Other times, it’s simply not an option.
Wanting to complete the level with the object in hand awakened the completionist in us and we never wanted to complete the stage without it. Keeping ourselves away from spikes was pertinent but keeping the object away from spikes was paramount. We weren’t prepared to go back and get it. This was another way the game generated nail-biting tension. There’s a feeling of extreme dread when you, your partner and the object are just hovering above a spike, just narrowly missing it. On one world the object is necessary to complete the level, as you need to get the egg into the nest, with the extra challenge of it shaking and being extra heavy.
When your luck runs out.
But what does the object do? Costumes. Each object works towards unlocking a new quirky costume for you to customize your character with. We loved these and became excited a new one was unlocked for us. This ties in to Heave Ho’s art design. It’s cartoony and very pleasant to look at with colors that work well together and work to craft a comical and endearing tone. This helped in part to generate something that we experienced the most in Heave Ho: Hilarity. The visual of our characters just nonchalantly falling to their deaths made us lose our minds laughing and really softened the blow of the constant failure. The awkward flailing movements as you work to complete a seemingly simple task made us laugh even harder. With that comes an undeniably engaging appeal unique to co-op games wherein you alternate between working with and against someone. If you’ve ever slapped your friends in LittleBigPlanet you’ll know how funny it is to just mess with the guy you’re supposed to be working with.
I think we gave up on this coin too.
In that sense, Heave Ho is a perfect couch co-op game. We’d get mad at it, even put it down for a bit to regain our sanity. But we’d return and end up having a great time. The game’s enjoyable if you take it seriously and work your way to the end and if you decide you’ve had enough and just decided to make a mad dash towards the end or just throw your friend of the edge for no reason. We’d recommend Heave Ho for an entertaining and surprisingly tense co-op experience.
To finish here’s a slow painful video of a failed pass of the coin. The original video was much longer.