Walking the floors of PAX Prime, certain games just catch your eye because of their catchy name, graphics or other booth antics. In the case of Ultimate Chicken Horse, it was the cartoon farm animals and the stuffed versions of them throughout the booth that immediately drew me in. I admit, though, that I thought Ultimate Chicken Horse might be garbage and its cutesy characters just gimmicks. It took only about two minutes of play to realize that I had vastly underestimated what this game had to offer.
A little over a year ago, the developers at studio Clever Endeavour brainstormed ideas for what would become Ultimate Chicken Horse at a game jame. The themes that came up in the game jam were ultimate, modular and…something else. Chief Creative Officer Kyler Kelly just couldn't seem to remember what exactly.
Kelly said that from there his thought process was: “What if there was a modular thing where you could build Mario-type levels, like put all the blocks in? And I was thinking of the game HORSE from basketball, which is where you set the challenge for other players by picking where in the court you’re going to shoot from. If everybody gets it in, nobody would get a HORSE letter. The only way you’d get points is if you could do it and nobody else can. So applying that concept to Mario was kind of the basis for the game.”
When you play Ultimate Chicken Horse you do so as one of four farm animals: horse, chicken, raccoon or sheep. Once you pick your character, you then pick a building block or obstacle. In the beginning you're given pretty simple pieces that will mainly help you to get from point A to point B. After each round you get another piece to add to the level. The pieces will start to become more and more dangerous, no longer helping you to get across the board, but instead helping you create obstacles so that your fellow players may struggle to get to the end.
The trick is you still have to get to the end yourself. So what happens if no one can get to the end? Kelly assured us that the game has been designed to take this into account and will offer players bombs to help clear out previously placed obstacles. It will also generate pieces according to how well (or not well) players are doing. Therefore, the game plays seamlessly and there is never a moment where players feel stuck.
Fun for all ages
Before I knew the story behind how Clever Endeavour came up with the idea for Ultimate Chicken Horse, I assumed that the game must have been designed to be a kid-friendly game that parents would love too. Though that was not the actual inspiration, it's still something the developers have nailed.
There were a ton of children lined up to play, and once they were on it parents had to practically drag them from the controllers. The combination of cute animals and simple game controls and gameplay makes Ultimate Chicken Horse very accessible to children. The game does feature some mild violence — there are rotating saws that you can use as an obstacle — but nothing too over the top.
Sometimes opinions do matter
Thanks to the internet, it's easy for people to express their opinions on things. Everyone does it, but gamers are definitely a group that tends to be especially vocal. Sometimes these opinions are listened to, but nothing changes. Every so often, though, your opinions can make a huge difference in the direction a game goes.
When we met with Kelly last month, he recounted that he had been hearing from a lot of people who would really like to see online multiplayer instead of just couch co-op. He told XBLA Fans that he hoped to add that into the game in a later build.
Well, apparently the feedback didn’t end post-PAX: as of last week Clever Endeavour has announced that it's going to stop work on its single-player mode and focus exclusively on developing the online multiplayer. Gamers, you have won.
The first release, expected in February for PC and Xbox One shortly after, will only include the multiplayer mode. In the beginning, you will have to play with friends you know, but the development team hopes to eventually add in online matchmaking. For those who loved the current single-player mode, the dev team did mention possibly releasing that in a future patch. But for now they're shifting their focus entirely to multiplayer.