Heave Ho Review
Couch co-op platforming makes for a great time
As we’ve grown beyond the simple consoles and gaming platforms of the past we’ve gained so much. Online multiplayer has reshaped the gaming landscape, but as we grew and gained we also lost. Couch co-op and local multiplayer has suffered in this age of ever-expanding technology, but some developers still focus on it as a core experience. This is the case with Heave Ho, a co-op platformer from publisher Devolver Digital. This unique take on co-op platforming results in tons of laughs and smiles, but its limitations do start to show as you play through the longer than anticipated campaign.
In Heave Ho your goal is simple: make it to the end without dying. To do this you have to drag your somewhat disembodied head around platforming stages filled with twists, turns, and traps. The only tools you have to accomplish this task are your two hands, controlled via their respective shoulder button/trigger. Simply by grabbing onto the various surfaces nearby you’ll crawl or swing your way to the finish. And while this is good fun on your own, the real joy is when four players are all working together to make it to the end together.
This simple premise, bereft of any story or plot to drag it down, creates a pure gameplay formula that is laser focused on crafting quality local multiplayer experiences. Yes, the game can be played solo, and that mode does allow for a good time here and there, but co-op is the real draw and it’s clearly the intended goal of Heave Ho. Without other players you often are just slowly crawling your way from platform to platform, latching onto the closest point of contact you can find and stretching until you grapple another handhold. Heave Ho feels more like a slow paced puzzle of sorts when played by yourself, dragging down the pace and robbing the game of many of its most fun moments.
These more enjoyable experiences are when the chaos truly begins. Almost unintuitively, the more players you have, the tougher the game gets in many ways. This is because a single player making it to the end won’t trigger success. Every player in the game has to do it, and if they’re inexperienced that means it’s the more skilled player’s job to get them there. This results in the titular grabbing and tossing of each other as you form a human(?) chain to make it across gaps and through challenging areas.
Loading up Heave Ho has the same feel to it as when you start up a Jackbox game, or bring out your craziest variant on Super Smash Bros.
Further complicating the gameplay is how tough it can be to figure out who’s who and which arm is controlled by which trigger. Even with robust customization options (which unfortunately aren’t saved forcing you to recreate your character many times over), each character can be mixed up with the other once things get truly chaotic. Of course, this is all intentional, and with the right group will lead to huge laughs as you toss your fellow player off into the wild blue yonder. But if you come into Heave Ho for a strategic experience or something more than a “party game” it could lead to disappointment.
That’s the only real disappointment found in Heave Ho though, with the game serving up plenty of levels given its low price tag, and enough fun to justify itself a few times over. While it’s not the deepest and most feature rich game out there, that’s beside the point. Loading up Heave Ho has the same feel to it as when you start up a Jackbox game, or bring out your craziest variant on Super Smash Bros. It’s a game that’s meant to take four people in a room and make them laugh, yell, and cheer at/for one another. It seems to have met and exceeded this goal quite well.
Of course, with that goal comes some very clear limitations. For one, there’s no online multiplayer component. This makes sense, as the gameplay is so time-sensitive and wouldn’t really convey the same feeling without the other player sitting right next to you. Online, working together to cross a large gap would be more of a chore than a treat. But this means potential players without local friends to hop on almost have no reason to make the leap. Sure, you can play every level by yourself, but do you want to? Not really. It’s still a bit of fun, but not the intended way to play and lacks the elements that bring Heave Ho up to its higher levels of enjoyment.
The game could also use some additional reasons to replay these levels beyond a shorter completion time. There are secrets hidden around some corners, such as collectible coins that unlock more customization options, but they are fewer and further between than most players may like. In fact, many entire sets of levels can be played through without stumbling upon these game enhancing features, if you aren’t specifically looking for them. It’s also unfortunate that the game doesn’t fully embrace its multiplayer either, with each level basically being designed to work for 1-4 players. Delineating higher player count levels from lower ones would allow more freedom of design and challenge to come forth.
With fun presentation and a well designed co-op platforming mechanic Heave Ho is certainly a great new addition to the party game genre. It’s a unique experience, to say the least, and people who have the almost requisite three additional players will come away very pleased with their purchase. There’s room to grow on the concept though, and the base game would reach much higher levels if it had embraced them right out of the gate. For the price though, this is worth adding to any local co-op fan’s library.
- Available On: Switch, PC
- Published By: Devolver Digital
- Developed By: Le Cartel Studio
- Genre: Party Game, Platformer
- US Release Date: August 29th, 2019
- Reviewed On: Switch
- Quote: "With fun presentation and a well designed co-op platforming mechanic Heave Ho is certainly a great new addition to the party game genre."