In Heave Ho, players will have to work together, like legless trapeze artists, to fling themselves to the flag. And they'll surely have fun doing it.
Every so often, a couch co-op game comes along that steals the spotlight from groups go-to's. After all, you can only play Super Smash Bros. for so many hours without it becoming frustrating if you and your friends are at disparate skill levels. And for those without a Nintendo Switch, there aren't many options for cooperative offline play. That's why Heave Ho is such a welcome breath of fresh air.
There are plenty of co-op games, and each one seems to run up against a similar barrier: is it more fun to complete the game's objective than it is to purposely mess with your friend's progress? In Super Mario Maker 2's multiplayer, for example, jumping on fellow player's heads and causing them to miss jumps can often provide a welcome respite to difficult platforming. Here, the frustration and team-building actually work in tandem. It may lead to some thrown Joy Cons (and for PC players a USB controller or two), but progress is made, one heave at a time.
Heave Ho has a simple premise: all 1-4 players must reach the goal of any given 2-D platforming level. Some levels have spikes to avoid, others feature endless chasms and rope swings. Of course, navigating these relatively short (some 15 seconds, other a few minutes) levels is never as easy as it first appears. Players control two goofy-psychics arms with an attached head, using the control stick (on console) to swing the arms, and the corresponding bumper to grab and release each hand. In this way, Heave Ho plays like a sort of platforming Octodad or Gang Beasts, and the mayhem that ensues is often just as hilarious.
The comedy is part due to Heave Ho's delightful style. The bright, cardboard/fuzzy aesthetic matched with a sort of silly Seuss-inspired soundtrack teeters on the edge of annoying, but never quite reaches it. Instead, it serves a dual purpose of helping players identify their character from the rest and rewarding those players who want to contribute to its look. All characters are customizable from their hair/hat to face to their outfit. Additional costumes can be unlocked by collecting coins placed throughout the game's many levels.
Similar to "Worlds" in Mario games, Heave Ho has "runs," which are groupings of levels that players complete in order to unlock the next run and progress through the game. There isn't really a campaign, but simply two modes: Solo and Multiplayer. Solo can be largely ignored; the game clearly isn't built for you to play by yourself. Unless you're a glutton for punishment or love difficult platforming, a lot of the levels will be far too difficult without a friend to drag along for the ride.
Whether players work in teams of 2, 3, or 4, Heave Ho is a delightfully maniacal afternoon game session. Platforming becomes a puzzle of jumbled arms, trying to figure out which players are holding hands and which one is grabbing on to the ledge. Who has the coin? Can we make it over that pit? The game expects you to die, in fact it almost encourages it. Falling to your death creates a colorful splash of paint (maybe blood?) that decorates the level above. Players will have to work together, like legless trapeze artists, to fling themselves to the flag. And they'll surely have fun doing it.
Most multiplayer games now have nearly endless content, so how does Heave Ho compete? Well, there aren't unlimited levels, but there are a few minigames to spice things up. Throughout a playthrough, golden ropes will appear in a level, giving players a short amount of time to grab them. Doing so triggers anything from a timed race to a friendly game of basketball. Of course, all the same goofy physics apply. These breaks from the action are another opportunity to yell at your teammates, and maybe punish a friend who purposefully tossed the coin away from the goal in the last run.
Heave Ho isn't really for those friends that are unfamiliar with games shy of Mario Party. It's not insanely challenging, but requires a certain amount of dedication (and acceptance of repetitive failure) to enjoy. The levels are short, sure, but the minutes and hours can quickly rack up as you and your friends throw each other into spikes and over walls. A lack of online multiplayer (at least on PC) seems like an oversight, but it's hard to find further fault in a game that fosters friendships and foe-ships with such unbridled joy.
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Heave Ho is out August 29, 2019 for Nintendo Switch and Steam for $9.99. Screen Rant was provided a digital Switch copy for the purpose of this review.