It is ironic that developer Huge Calf Studio's first game is titled When Ski Lifts Go Wrong because so much of it goes right. When Ski Lifts Go Wrong first launched in late 2017 under Steam early access with the name Carried Away. Published by Curve Digital the game has now come to PC and Nintendo Switch for full release. While its low-poly graphics might not look like much this is a deceptively difficult and satisfying experience that oozes with charm.
When Ski Lifts Go Wrong is a puzzler in the vein of Bridge Constructor. The player is tasked with building all manner of skiing attractions from chairlifts to gondolas to bridges. The game is very physics-based and the slightest construction error can result in, as the name suggests, hilarious failures. Even when everything is going wrong though the game is an absolute delight.
The biggest sin that can be laid at When Ski Lifts Go Wrong's feet is that it takes a long while to get going. The game throws all of its basic building mechanics at the player up front. The core concept of the game never changes. Every one of When Ski Lifts Go Wrong's 104 levels involves getting the lemming-like skiers, snowboarders and sometimes even snowmobile riders from one end of the stage to the other. The challenge is all about how to get them to the end point with certain conditions. All the variables involved can be disorienting at the game's start.
While the basics of When Ski Lifts Go Wrong is building elaborate towers to transport snow sport enthusiasts, a lot of different factors go into that task. After the few tutorial levels the game demands the player to do nearly everything on their own; from placing tower foundations to choosing materials. Everything matters. For example logs create sturdy towers with minimal material but they're also much more expensive than plain wooden planks. As cutesy as the game looks the psychics are no joke. If a tower is flimsy and built with haphazard planks it will send skiers to their rag-doll death. While the failures can be amusing in their destructive glory, the first few hours of the game are rough as the amount of elements to consider are more overwhelming than entertaining.
Eventually, around the third mountain level, When Ski Lifts Go Wrong begins to click. The game is still a challenge but it's the perfect level of challenging. The solution is evident but it's just out of reach. This slight level of brain tease is so gratifying to overcome again and again. When Ski Lifts Go Wrong also smartly adds extra objectives to the levels besides getting from point A to point B. There are budget restrictions added to lifts or extra collectible medals are placed in dangerous locations (like between two tall trees).
There's also variation. Occasionally the game will switch to controlling the skier, snowboarder, or whoever. The player will be forced to build a jump and be put in direct control of the snow sport enthusiasts to get them to the finish line Trials or Hot Wheels style. These levels aren't as brilliant as the ski lift building variation as they're a lot more simple but they keep the game fresh. Towards the end of campaign the focus even switches from snow-covered mountains to grassy ones and tasks the player with creating attractions for summer minded thriller seekers. Once the steep learning curve is conquered, When Ski Lifts Go Wrong's campaign provides one of the best and deepest puzzling games out there.
The campaign is lengthy too. With over a 100 levels, which can take about 15 minutes or more to complete each depending on your skill level, there's a substantial and worthy time investment in When Ski Lifts Go Wrong. Sadly once the campaign is over there's not much life left in the game. There is a level editor which works well and is creatively simulating for a certain type of player. However there's no option to share or download levels from other other players on Nintendo Switch or PC. It's possible to share pictures and videos of your creations but there's no player interaction which is a huge missed opportunity.
Of the two versions of the game the PC might be superior. When Ski Lifts Go Wrong works and runs great on Nintendo Switch but it does feel a little awkward mapped to a controller. It's an unavoidable problem but using a mouse or playing the Switch in handheld mode with the touch screen does offer a better control experience. Regardless of the platform though When Ski Lifts Go Wrong is an incredibly worthwhile game even if the opening hours can be a frustration.
When Ski Lifts Go Wrong is available now on Nintendo Switch and Steam for $14.99. Screen Rant was provided a Nintendo Switch copy for review.