By Neil Merrett
Heave Ho, released in 2019 on Nintendo Switch, developed by Le Cartel Studio
Heave-Ho is a multiplayer party title that can without warning, become something of a study in connection, bonding, rope swings and the thrill of hurling yourself into the unknown with friends and loved ones.
The 2018 blockbuster videogame Red Dead Redemption 2 asks gamers to navigate the moral quandaries of the US frontier in the early 20th century whether by foot, horseback and rail. It is a game about meting out ‘justice’, revenge or crude, calculated violence on an expansive open world.
With its crafting and combat systems, not to mention the option to shave and groom your character to fit into this digital cowboy world, the game is currently one of the more sophisticated attempts to build a digital ecosystem in which you are a living part of history. The developers supply the people, places and history and you provide the morality and action.
Reportedly, more than 25 million copies of the game have been sold in various formats – even before the PC launch of the title this year. It is a game that may not be for everyone, but it is hard to argue against the level of technical sophistication that has gone into making Read Dead 2, not to mention the human toil behind the scenes.
However, the concept of sophistication, like morality, is endlessly open to interpretation – sometimes problematically so.
Over the last decade, if not more, developers have been experimenting with whole new ways of using videogames to convey emotion, cooperation, and the concepts of friendship and relationship building.
In short, the industry, driven by coders of an increasing number of backgrounds, are making seemingly innocuous little games that are simply…. Fun.
In some ways, these games are often equally as technically sophisticated as major studio products, often building a fleshed out gamed based on simple, solitary mechanic and then perfecting it.
The Overcooked series for example, has been a megahit by creating a cartoonish kitchen simulator where one to four players must overcome the stress of pending orders and the rigours of running street kitchens built on hot air balloons or over a volcano.
At the game’s centre is the requirement to fetch an ingredient, go to a chopping board and then cook it in some way – usually by the touch of a button. But the title, with its diverse number of kitchens that mimic real-world and fantasy locations, uses its simple premise to create a deep experience that can be funny, entertaining, stressful, thoughtful and mindless – all within a single level.
Videogames, sometimes by focusing on a single simple concept, can create something far more engrossing and immersive than the latest AAA title that has been slaved over, sometimes quite literally, by hundreds of developers and workers for years.
Le Cartel Studio’s Heave Ho is a game that requires nothing more than holding and clinging onto things, sometimes for the sake of your life. This can be a ceiling, a wall, a swinging jungle rope, or in the case of multiplayer, another person.
The player’s character, which can be stylised and recoloured to your individual preference, is nothing more than two arms and a face.
The player’s arms are basically all they control, waving them around until they reach the required target. From here, you simply grab onto something, either with your left or right in-game hands that are controlled by the left and right shoulder buttons respectively.
Hurl yourself at a wall, and you can grab on indefinitely, at least until you let go of the buttons. However, when you are flipped upside down and being swung in an endless clockwise loop, it is important to make sure you know what hand is holding on to what thing in order to keep alive.
It is a game, like many of the best ever developed, that rewards a considered methodological approach as much as it does going on instinct and throwing yourself, and your team, into action with split-second timing.
Never break the chain
It is in multiplayer then, where Heave Ho seems to really come to life – testing the bonds of friendship in both a literal and metaphorical sense. For as well as having to grab onto your surroundings to reach a level’s end, cooperative play requires you to sometimes grab on to each other, whether to create chains or human ropes by linking arms, or catching someone by their face as they risk falling to their blood splattered doom.
Blood, which is comically splatted over the screen when a player is crushed on spikes or falls down an endless pit, can see every player coated in the same garish hue. Communication is important then, especially when you are all soaked in the neon yellow entrails of player two.
This very literal connection is both a vital component to teamwork, but can also be used to make sure a particularly mercenary player doesn’t seek to reach the end goal on their own, leaving their team mates stranded. In these cases, it is possible to literally carry or drag certain players along with the rest of the team, either in support, or to make sure they are not going anywhere.
Almost everyone has one of THOSE friends afterall.
That really is the game. You either race or help each other scale walls and navigate around traps, learn to coordinate your swinging motion to try and hurl yourself to the level goal, or make sure a lost player can be pulled up and rescued from a cliff edge as part of a human chain.
Under Heave Ho’s simple retro 2D graphics is something simple and brilliant, executed to basic perfection.
It leaves the moral quandaries of the USA’s painful, cavalier foundation to other developers. Heave Ho just wants you to hold on to each other as best you can, regardless of how hard it gets. A great multiplayer game cannot ask for much more than that.