Chessarama Review (PC) – It’s Rook To B Squared

Knight to C5! Chess is a funny old game, filled with rules and mind-bogglingly endless variations of moves. It’s also been immortalised numerous times in video game form, but never quite like this. Chessarama uses the individual piece rules of chess and turns them into something wholly unique – a charming board puzzler.

Truth be told, I’d assumed it would be largely a gimmick. A fun mini-game drawn out into a bloated and overblown title. As is often the case, however, I was pleasantly surprised and very wrong. I’m as good at predicting unique video game quality as I am at real world chess, it would seem. Set the board, place the pieces and prepare for mental warfare, it’s time to play Chessarama.

A Knight’s Bale

As mentioned, Chessarama is a puzzler, one set up to test your mental plotting and knowledge of chess piece rules. The game is split into four main campaigns of sorts. The first is farmyard-based, the second is football (soccer for those who are incorrect), ronin for the third and dragon fantasy for the last. Each puzzle setting is charmingly quirky in its own way, providing its own sense of style and challenge.

Farm puzzles, for example, focus on the Knight piece’s movement. You’ll move your piece across tiles of farmland, trying to avoid re-using the same tile or completing it in a set amount of moves. As the difficulty ramps up, each move might simultaneously move another Knight on an adjacent board.

Football boards have you commanding (bishops and rooks) pieces into sequential positions to outmanoeuvre obstacles to score the goal. Meanwhile, ronin and dragon’s heart dioramas challenge your understanding of positioning and forward planning. I enjoyed each campaign more than I’d bargained for. Setting up the perfect goal was satisfying, while finally finishing the last farm and Ronin levels felt more rewarding than besting Magnus Carlsen.

The second half of each campaign will usually introduce new pieces, rules or quandaries to wrap your head around. There’s a really satisfying gradient (mostly) of puzzle difficulty, as a result. I almost smashed my laptop on one of the farm levels, which maybe hints at some being a little too obtuse. Equally, this could just be me being… well, bad. Some do definitely border the frustrating line at times, however.

Chessarama review

Pawn Sale

Chessarama’s endearing main modes will keep you entertained for a good couple of hours. Completing levels and achieving the challenge requirements rewards XP, raising your profile rank. More pertinently, this also unlocks new mini-games to try out. All of these are based on the modes established in the main campaign, but they’re addictive little diversions.

The football one is a highlight, setting up a mock foosball match whereby you need to use your pieces strategically to score. Mini-games have their own challenges to complete and provide an extra layer of entertaining depth to an already creative spin on regular chess. I wouldn’t say they held my attention for particularly long or are worth coming back for just to play, but they’re nice additions.

Similar to getting a pawn to the end of the board and recovering a rook. Not essential to success, but definitely worthwhile to satiate your winning compulsions. Should you tire of besting the AI’s preset challenges, you can even head online and go head-to-head in a deathmatch of wills and patience. I mean, it’s just regular old chess, but it sounds more exciting that way.

I won my first match online, so naturally, I’m a big fan. Jokes aside (I lost the next one, sigh), the mode is basic but it’s a necessary and solid addition. No bells or whistles here, just what you’d expect to be present. If anything, it feels a bit of a missed opportunity not to have some of the mini-games available online.

Chessarama review

A Look Worthy of A King

Given the name, you may have guessed that Chessarama is styled to look like a series of dioramas. With a shaded art direction and untextured yet delightful boards to puzzle your way through, it’s an endearing look. It was easy to get swept up in the relaxing atmosphere and adorable graphics, which is for the best when some of the enigmas had me enraged.

Like the fanciest of chessboards, the pieces on different levels are all well-detailed and nicely designed. For fans of the Kamakura period in Japanese history, the ronin campaign will be a highlight, with some wonderfully imaginative designs. The fantasy levels are also impressive, as you attempt to help your lowly pawn slay the dragon heart at the end of the path.

In all, Chessarama is lovely to play, helped significantly but its artistic style. There’s a lot of love that’s been poured into making this a pleasing visual experience, and it shows. I did unfortunately have a couple of hiccups, like the interface locking up, rendering me unable to move my pieces. I also had a challenge fail before I’d actually hit the fail requirement, which was slightly frustrating.

Otherwise, Chessarama runs smoothly and is a delight to spend time playing.

Chessarama review

Rook-ie Becomes A Queen

If I had some gripes about Chessarama, it’d be that some of the difficulty scaling can be uneven and occasionally goes off the end of the board, and off of a cliff. However, this never derailed the inherent fun of the puzzler, just provided a minor stumbling block to overcome. It may not be the greatest puzzler nor best chess game ever made, but it’s a delightful way to spend an afternoon.

It took me a couple of hours to finish off the main campaign modes, try out a few mini-games and test my luck against plucky opponents online. I can safely imagine spending a good couple more hours ticking off challenges and putting my puzzle-solving brain matter to the test.

Much like the game of chess itself, Chessarama can be compelling, charming, frustrating, defeat-inducing and hugely entertaining, all at once. The best part is, the tutorialisation does an expert job at onboarding players, even if you have no experience of the real-life mastermind board. Nothing to fret about, even if you’ve never played chess while being a uniquely creative spin on the game for those well acquainted.

Chessarama converts the tactical and strategic appeal of chess into a charming and brain-teasing puzzler successfully. It loses its Queen thanks to some minor technical hiccups and occasionally widely volatile difficulty curve, but there are more than enough pieces remaining to see it achieve a comfortable victory. Not quite a grandmaster, but an adept newcomer’s spin on the timeless game of chess.

Chessarama review

Chessarama is available now on PC (review platform) and Xbox One.

Developer: Minimol Games
Publisher: Hawthorn Games

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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