Heave Ho was developed by Le Cartel Studio, who were previously responsible for side-scrolling beat-em-up Mother Russia Bleeds. It is the latest in a long stream of quality titles which have been flung Switch-wards by publisher Devolver Digital. Heave Ho will release on August 29th 2019 at £8.99 (although, psst, if you pre-order it you can enjoy a 10% discount).
In Heave Ho you play as a ball with two long arms whose only ambition is to use its preternatural grip and strength to clamber and catapult its body across a series of 2D obstacle courses in order to reach a chequered flag. Heave Ho can be played by up to four people simultaneously, which is where the insanity reaches a peak.
The controls for Heave Ho are very simple. The left stick dictates the orientation of the ball’s arms, and the shoulder buttons each cause the corresponding hand to grip whatever is currently within reach. Pulling yourself along by grabbing the environment is your only means of movement, beyond being able to slightly influence your trajectory by shifting your weight while flying through the air. These simple controls offer a lot of nuance, with the gravitational physics being perfectly tuned to allow acrobatic feats worthy of Cirque De Soleil.
The single player mode of Heave Ho offers a short campaign, with a hard mode for anyone who finds the standard set of levels a bit too easy-going. The initial batch of single-player levels didn’t cause me too many headaches, although the difficulty is immediately escalated with the tricky, trap-laden layouts found in the hard mode. My only beef with the campaign is that each set of levels is considered a “run”, and if you quit mid-way through you will need to start the world from the beginning next time you boot the game up. The Switch’s portability and its suspend feature makes this less onerous than it could be, but if you are part-way through a set of levels and want to play another game, use up some of your coins to unlock costumes or simply move from playing single player to playing multiplayer you will lose progress.
The single player campaign feels more like a pleasant diversion than anything essential, but couch co-op mode is where Heave Ho really excels, with your ability to grip applying not just to walls and ceilings but also to other player characters. This enables you to form a four person swinging rope or offer a hanging arm onto which a catapulted player can grab. Not only must all players reach the chequered flag but level goals are expanded to incorporate objectives not present in the single player campaign, such as transporting an object across a course.
Completing a level becomes a slightly incompetent acrobatic routine as multiple players join hands to traverse the environment, with the tension ramping up considerably as you wobble your way closer to the goal. Expect to be frantically co-ordinating who should let go of the L button and who absolutely shouldn’t, and expect to get it wrong frequently. This is where Heave Ho’s excellent physics become most apparent, as there is much more of a focus on working in tandem to make seemingly impossible leaps.
You will die often but load times are so joyfully short and punishments are so mercifully few that failure will often result in laughter rather than controllers being heaved across the room. Heave Ho even offers colour-coded gloves and helpful indications of which button corresponds to each arm, reducing instances of accidentally releasing the wrong trigger and plummeting to your doom (although these can be turned off for extra challenge).
Occasionally a golden rope will appear in a level, and grabbing this will trigger one of a number of fun mini-games which provide some welcome variation. Tasks include imitating dance moves (using your arms and hands), climbing across environments to place your body within a white shape and throwing basketballs into a hoop. Successful completion of these mini-games results in coins being awarded, which can be used on an in-game bubble-gum machine to unlock various excellently-designed costumes, which can then be mixed up according to your preferences. My only complaint here is that the bonus levels only appear very rarely and I couldn’t work out how to trigger them.
Heave Ho looks fantastic. Stages are awash with vibrant colour and feel alive due to nearly every element being animated to some degree. Costumes for the player characters are lovingly designed, and really pop against the painterly backgrounds. The only sub-par art design features on the tutorial world, which offers plain black shapes to scramble around while you familiarise yourself with the controls, and a world in which the walls and ceilings are invisible.
The latter was presumably created with the multiplayer mode in mind, given that falling to your death causes a gout of blood in the colour of your character model to be squirted over the environment, revealing hitherto unseen walls which begin to resemble Jackson Pollock paintings as the death count rises. The problem here is that I died relatively few times during the invisible obstacle stages as deaths in the majority of levels result from a particularly challenging leap or a mischievously placed spike, and these elements are largely not present in the invisible levels (at least in the main campaign).
The music in Heave Ho is perhaps its most inconsistent element. Each of the tracks is catchy, but the idiosyncratic choice of sounds, along with loops being pretty short, mean some tracks start to grate over time. That’s not to say the out of tune guitars and pitch-shifted vocals don’t add a certain uniqueness to proceedings. Sound effects are comical and capture the irreverence of the gameplay pretty well. Characters grumble in wordless abandon and each typically clumsy-looking death is answered with a hilarious horn blare.
Heave Ho isn’t the longest title on the Switch and might not thrill the solo player, but if you have a friend or three it is worth every penny. There is also the potential to speed-run levels if you want additional challenge, and the hard mode is genuinely difficult, requiring much more precise movement.
Heave Ho is a beautiful co-op title which is sure to liven up games nights and Twitch/Mixer streams across the world. I’m slinging it the Thumb Culture Gold Award!
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.
This article was written by Philip Brook