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July 2019

Conan Chop Chop

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Funcom
Developer: Mighty Kingdom
Release Date: Sept. 3, 2019


Switch/PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Conan Chop Chop'

by Thomas Wilde on July 2, 2019 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Conan Chop Chop is a four-player couch co-op, roguelike, hack-and-slash game set in Hyboria, the world created by fantasy author Robert E. Howard more than 80 years ago.

In Funcom's defense, even they thought they were kidding at first.

Mighty Kingdom is an Australian developer, primarily of ultra-cute mobile games, which is apparently channeling all of its rage and violence into a title that was originally called Dungeon Chop Chop. At Gamescom, however, while Mighty Kingdom was searching for a publisher, Funcom suggested that they make it into a licensed Conan title. They even went so far as to make a trailer for it, which they put up this past April Fools' Day as if they were joking.

Hence, Conan Chop Chop: an ultraviolent dungeon crawler for up to four players that reimagines Conan of Cimmeria and his world as if they'd been designed by the guys who make "Cyanide & Happiness." If I'd been giving out awards at E3 2019 this year for Most Entertaining Walk Cycle, Chop Chop would've gotten it clean, as all the characters in this title bounce angrily around the world like grumpy snowmen on licorice legs.

You can play Conan Chop Chop as Conan (naturally), Belit, Pallantides or Valeria, who are all mechanically identical. It's a four-player co-op roguelike with no RPG elements to speak of, where you go out to fight monsters to earn coins, in order to go back to town and spend those coins on booze, food, and better weapons.

It's a pure action-style throwback that reminds me of a lot of 8- and 16-bit games, with unforgiving difficulty, enemies that whittle you down a bit at a time through stray hits and resource depletion, and old-school gauntlets of tricks and traps.

According to the game's executive producer, Kim Forrest, Chop Chop is an odd blend of handmade and procedurally generated. The game is meant to take you through a sequence of biome-based maps, from forests to deserts to icy lands to a flaming hellscape, en route to a final confrontation with traditional Conan enemies Xaltotun and Thoth-Amon. The order in which you go through these biomes is always the same, and the individual "rooms" on each map are hand-made, but the order in which you go through them is randomized at the start of a fresh run. The idea was to make sure there wouldn't be any such thing as a memorized, ideal route through the game, in order to keep things fresh.

You begin the game in town, where you can pick up quests from the locals, smash all their chests and pots to steal all their stray coins, and purchase your first real weapon from the merchant, such as a spear or greatsword. You also have a supply of consumable items, such as arrows, bombs, chicken, ham, and skins of wine, to use for ranged attacks or healing on the fly.

Once you leave the village, however, that's it for support. Conan Chop Chop gives you very little in the way of mercy or restraint once you enter combat. The wilderness is full of goblins, skeletons, slimes, and other assorted monsters to kill, all of whom die in splattery explosions of comic gore. The aftermath of any given fight in Conan Chop Chop looks like the battlefield after a paintball game, except it's blood and body parts. An individual monster isn't much of a threat — although the ones that inflict poison can be a serious problem — but any stray bit of health you lose costs you in the long run. Money's easy to come by, but there's nowhere to resupply in the wild, and death costs you some significant amount of that coinage.

The ideais that your runs through Chop Chop won't be perfect. They'll be messy, destructive, and often unsuccessful, but you'll unlock more and better weapons back at the village for your next attempt. There are no levels to grind or special equipment to collect; it's a pure test of cooperation, reflexes, and old-school pattern recognition. I got to fight the first boss at E3, and we got him most of the way down by finding a weak spot in his pattern and exploiting the hell out of it, SNES-style.

Conan Chop Chop is due out on Sept. 3 for the PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One. The Conan license is mostly stuck on there for a laugh, and I got one from seeing an angry li'l stick figure Conan bouncing around bloody battlefields, but the actual game behind it is a challenging throwback dungeon-crawler that feels like Gauntlet, the top-down Legend of Zelda games, and a couple of arcade beat-'em-ups like Final Fight got together and had a visually unchallenging baby. It's a solid co-op experience.

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