ultimate chicken horse

Why Montreal indie video game Ultimate Chicken Horse is a great winter go-to

We spoke to one of the founders of the local studio Clever Endeavour about how the game has blown up.

Winter is inarguably the best time to stay inside and play video games. Besides, all the forced family and friend interactions over the holidays could always benefit from some ice-breaking cooperative gaming. 

Couch or local co-op games are games that are played on a single system, where players have to be physically in the same room. These games generally fall into two categories: games where you have to cooperate to complete a task (think Heavenly Bodies, Overcooked, Heave Ho or Snipperclips) and adversarial games, which are generally battle games like Gang Beasts, Brawlhalla or Stick Fight.

With winter setting in, my 10-year-old asked to download Ultimate Chicken Horse. Having never played this game, I abided. It hit a lot of the things we like in couch co-op: single screen, problem solving, strategy and, most importantly, customizable cute animals.

Ultimate Chicken Horse is not a new game. Released by Montreal indie studio Clever Endeavour back in 2016, it’s a “party platformer game where you build the level as you play, placing traps and hazards to screw your friends over, but trying not to screw yourself.” But it’s really this balance of having to play with and against each other at the same time that sets the game apart.

When I spoke to one of Clever Endeavour’s studio founders, Richard Atlas, about Ultimate Chicken Horse, he echoed this sentiment. “It’s that core game loop where players have to build the level, try and run through it, and then build the level again. And the key there is: how do I make the level hard enough that it’s too hard for (my) friends but easy enough for (me).”

Atlas is quite modest about the game’s trajectory. When asked about the game “blowing up,” he responded: “If it has blown up, I’ll take that.” However, using the highly speculative Boxleiter method (a calculation based on the number of reviews a title has received on Steam), Ultimate Chicken Horse has sold over a million copies on Steam alone. 

“The game launched in March 2016 and during the first (Steam) Summer Sale, which was June or July, we saw a big uptick.” It helped that Ultimate Chicken Horse had some heavyweight Twitch streamers and YouTubers playing the game. This includes the likes of Markiplier, Ssundee, Spanish Youtuber ElChurches and more recently, Socksfor1 and Slogo. In their first year, the visibility on Ultimate Chicken Horse was huge. Atlas notes that “baseline sales went up, and by the (December 2016 Steam) Winter Sale we saw a much bigger spike and it just kept kind of growing from there.”

Understandably Atlas was tight-lipped when asked about what Clever Endeavour is working on next. “From 2019 to 2022, we would work for half the year on new projects and then work maybe less than half the year on a new update.” Switching between prototyping and Ultimate Chicken Horse has allowed the team to put out at least one update every year since its launch in 2016. ”It’s tricky because we need to make sure the community understands that we do have to work on other things.”

If you like playing games with your kids, or feel like asking grandma to pick up a Joy-Con, Ultimate Chicken Horse is a definite recommendation. It’s also not much of a time sink, and after about an hour it gets a bit grindy. Luckily well-paced level and character unlocks, combined with a trove of updates and community levels, have kept us coming back to this title.

What are Atlas’s favourite couch co-op games? “From the beginning-beginning, it was playing N64 games with friends, Mario Kart especially, and Mario Tennis.” He also said the Clever Endeavour team played a lot of TowerFall, Move or Die, Duck Game and Treadnauts when researching for UCH. But his latest recommendation? The recently released King of the Hat, made by Hat Games here in Montreal, that’s been described as a single-button Super Smash Bros. ■

For more on Ultimate Chicken Horse, please visit the Clever Endeavour website.

Game Jam is a monthly column about Montreal’s video game community. Are you a Montreal studio releasing a game soon? Please contact me here.

This article was originally published in the December 2022 issue of Cult MTL.

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