Heave Ho by Le Cartel is just about the most Devolver Digital game we've ever played. If you know anything about Devolver and the portfolio of titles the company has collected together over the years, you won't be surprised by the style and substance of this quirky new physics-based puzzle-platformer from the studio that last gave us Mother Russia Bleeds.
The aim of the game in Heave Ho is to get your strange bean-like character across a level. The twist in the tail is that your character is all gangly limbs and you have to control both hands, gripping onto surfaces for dear life and swinging about the place in search of safety and progress. This is very much easier said than done, and the unforgiving physics will result in many a premature end.
Your bean (or whatever the hell it is) is customisable with different colours and new features, and there are unlockable costumes awaiting those who persevere. You can change your voice (they don't say words per se, rather they mumble and yelp inaudible nonsense) to make yourself even more distinctive, which is especially helpful when playing in co-op.
Co-op (for up to four players) and solo are ostensibly the same, in the sense that you have to get one (solo) or all of you (co-op) to the end of the level to register your time. Each level is timed individually, but they're arranged into chapters and each one (and there are loads) is unlocked by completing the last. Upon completion, you'll be told how long it took you to complete all of the levels in that chapter, and then it's time to move on to the next.
Things start out easy enough, but it's not long before you're having to take all sorts of crazy, gravity-defying risks to get from start to finish, and some levels begin to feel more like cruel, twisted assault courses. If you are struggling there is at least an option to equip what are essentially sticky gloves, and this makes grabbing ledges and ropes much, much easier.
That said, even with the gloves on, it can get extremely frustrating at times, as you swing around and make desperate jumps only to watch your little bean friend plummet to their death again and again and again. On the bright side, death is but a punchline in Heave Ho, and the spot where your bean left the level and shuffled off its mortal coil is the point where your liquidated self is fired from a cannon all over a section of the level. Lovely.
This grim but oft-repeated death sequence complements the shimmering and simple art style, which reminded us a little of Gabe Cuzzillo's Ape Out (also a Devolver game). It's a bold and distinctive style that looks like a child's scrawl brought to life, and we enjoyed the irreverence almost as much as the kids, who howled and screamed with laughter as they tried to traverse each level with flappy-limbed characters regularly falling to their hilarious doom.
In between certain levels, there are mini-games that further lean into the physics-based gameplay, with sections where you have to mimic the movements of a computer-controlled character with a certain degree of accuracy, for example. They're not particularly meaningful distractions on their own, but they at least break up the flow of the game, which can get frustrating if you've been battling the same level for an extended period of time.
Heave Ho offers plenty of accessible fun. It's a simple concept that's hard to master, like Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, Manual Samuel or even Human Fall Flat, but with a simpler, more accessible style that should draw in gamers of all ages. It can be a pain at times, and we found playing on the Switch in handheld mode was a literal pain as we had to keep the triggers depressed for so long while also carrying the weight of the console, but on the big screen Heave Ho is a fantastic little party game that everyone will enjoy until they hate it.
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