The temperature has started to drop, the rain is back and the days are once again growing ever shorter. It’s official; the summer is coming to an end. Sure, that may put a few frowns on the faces of those already counting the days till they can get the BBQ back out or head down the beach, but for me, I see it as an excuse. A chance to shift focus to keeping warm and staying indoors with some good, chaotic local multiplayer games. The Switch isn’t exactly short on examples let’s be honest whether it’s coming from Nintendo themselves, third parties or of course the indies. It’s the latter group in particular that have produced not only some of the best multiplayer experiences for the console but also some of the weirdest and Devolver Digital’s Heave Ho ticks both boxes with ease.
In Heave Ho you play as a Geodude-looking creature consisting of no more than a round body and a pair of long arms. Using the control stick to move your limbs and the L and R Buttons to grab onto surfaces (including your teammates’ hands) with each hand your main objective is to navigate a short, often single-screen stage filled with platforms and obstacles aplenty and a bottomless pit below. At its core, this a very simple game but it’s one whose difficulty slaps you in the face as soon as you venture outside its first five tutorial stages. Suddenly gaps become bigger forcing you to literally throw yourself across using a well-timed swing. New obstacles also get introduced such as spikes, exposed electrical wires, swinging ropes, spinning platforms, and darkness-filled caves. Contending with all of these is no easy task especially when there are four of you all eyeing the end goal. Fortunately, they’re fun to figure out and experiment with, the game throwing enough tools your way to keep things interesting throughout.
The main draw of Heave Ho is easily the game’s multiplayer, every level playable with up to four working together, and work together you must. Platforms out of reach for a single character may require you to all fasten hands and create a bridge or long swinging rope as a team for example. It’s this reliance on needing one another that leads to Heave Ho’s best and most chaotic moments. Even with just two of us trying to work as a unit, there was plenty of shouting and laughing to be had but when four got involved things got even more chaotic and uproarious still.
When a plan works it feels like reaching the top of a mountain and admiring the view. Throwing a teammate across the stage so another manages to catch them in action movie fashion is as satisfying to accomplish, as it is to watch. On the flip side, the game is just as brilliant when you watch your teamwork come crashing down whether it’s a mistimed throw or someone accidentally letting go of the wrong hand. Even ten or twelve failed attempts into a level frustration was rarely an issue despite the loud yelling and bickering. Instead, the bigger issue was dealing with the tears of laughter blurring our view.
The game does consider the single player although as you’d expect the experience is somewhat neutered over its far superior cooperative alternative. The levels themselves are exactly the same albeit with some extra helping platforms so you’re physically able to make it alone. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this option, it just lacks the same level of excitement and hilarity playing with others does. Put simply this is not the way to play this game at all.
While simply getting the entire team to the end goal can be challenging enough, each level also includes the optional task of collecting a coin. What makes gathering these an often-nightmarish exercise is that not only will they be placed in difficult to reach areas but you’ll also need to figure out a way to carry them with you to the goal. This is where your communication and teamwork need to be on point since grabbing the coin with one hand stops you from then being able to use it for anything else (such as grabbing platforms).
Hanging ropes will sometimes appear in levels that if pulled on quickly enough will kick off a short minigame. These come in a few different flavors such as throwing basketballs into a giant hoop or maneuvering yourself about a level to certain spots within a time limit. These challenges are a neat distraction and if successful will reward you with a healthy stack of coins. These coins can then be used on a slot machine to unlock different costumes for the characters.
The game has a very goofy and an almost crude vibe about it involving defecating birds that fly over levels and a giant farting llama. These sort of jokes aren’t very funny the first time you witness them so you can be sure they only grow more grown inducing the more they pop up. In fact, when the giant llama does show up its fart cloud will spread covering most of the stage making it almost impossible to see anything. It’s an annoying gimmick that only results in everyone waiting around for too long a time. Heave Ho’s main characters are amusing enough alone – especially in their varying outfits – without the need for these unfunny poop and fart jokes.
Heave Ho is a hilarious, goofy and surprisingly challenging time but one that only reveals its true genius when played with a group of friends. It delivers the sort of chaotic teamwork-focused gameplay that will no doubt result in plenty of yelling and cursing but more importantly laughter throughout. The game is hard to recommend for the single player but as far as couch co-op experiences go, Heave Ho ranks as one of this year’s best surprises.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Devolver Digital