A game that started life as an April Fool’s joke is coming to fruition next month.
That game is Conan Chop Chop, a Conan the Barbarian game unlike any other Conan the Barbarian game. Developed by Mighty Kingdom and published by Funcom, the company behind the much less cute-looking Conan Exiles, Conan Chop Chop is a cartoonified Rogue-like game featuring the titular barbarian. In it are hints of early Zelda games smooshed together with the likes of The Binding of Isaac; and the result is something rather adorable but deadly.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Conan Chop Chop is an easy game thanks to its cutesy art style. That cutesy art style is a lie: Conan Chop Chop is difficult right from the get-go. You start off with minimal health, and enemies – of which there are dozens in any one area – want to take that health away from you. Until you progress far enough to unlock better weapons and secondary attacks, all you can do is swing your sword, dodge out of the way and hope for the best. It asks for Dark Souls-like skill, but on a 2D playing field that offers none of the precision.
That’s not to say you still can’t get good at Conan Chop Chop, though. In my first few runs, I quickly learned it isn’t always the best option to fight. Sure, fighting enemies means being rewarded with coins – and coins mean upgrades – but currency can also be found in treasure chests and boxes dotted around the world. A wise tactic is to avoid all but the easiest enemies until you’ve been able to secure an upgrade or two. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, otherwise your stick-legged Conan isn’t going to last very long.
With Conan Chop Chop being a Rogue-like, once you succumb to an enemy, that’s it: game over. Back to the beginning you go. And since the game’s map is randomly generated, you haven’t even got the knowledge of knowing where you need to head. But as they say, practice makes perfect.
Conan Chop Chop‘s map is rather sprawling, and it’ll only uncover as you venture into new areas of it. Early on, you’ll come across regions that you can’t access yet: fire and ice regions that require specialist equipment. It’s at least a good way of making sure you can’t wander into an area you’re seriously under-prepared for.
The first two areas you’re able to explore, a forest and the aptly-named Darkwood, don’t so much ease you in gently, but there’s nothing you can’t handle as long as you take your time. Enemies are best dealt with one-on-one, which means luring them away from bigger groups and making clever use of your dodge move and your shield. Or, you can do what I did and spend most of the time running away. It’s when you reach the game’s first dungeon that things get really serious. You’re advised not to enter until you’re prepared; once you’re through its doors you can’t leave until the boss inside is dead. Or until you die. Which in my case is definitely what came first.
In the dungeon you don’t have the luxury of avoiding enemies: they often have to be defeated so the next door will open, which means only the skilled will survive. But don’t worry too much if you do die. While Conan Chop Chop isn’t easy to master, it is easy to pick up. Its adorable hand-drawn art style immediately grabs you, and its alluring gameplay loop – collect coins, buy upgrades, get stronger – is one that doesn’t quickly get old.
The fact you can bring pals along for the journey, too, only makes it more enticing. Up to four players can play at once, either online or locally. It really is a case of the more the merrier. And while it’s still challenging with friends by your side, it’s an altogether more enjoyable adventure. If cute cartoon graphics and fun Rogue-like adventures are your bag, Conan Chop Chop might just fill it nicely. It’ll be available on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch on 25 February.