Fun but flawed Chess Puzzle game that will really get your brain working...


Now who wouldn't want to play a chess-based puzzle game with 100+ levels? Well.. A lot of you I suspect, but fortunately I love chess and used to play it a lot, so couldn't wait to get my hands on Chessarama.

Chessarama is a rather odd concept: a puzzle game that uses chess pieces and their unique moves to solve puzzles. The game vaguely reminds me of the chess puzzles or "exercises" that used to appear in certain newspapers (remember those?)

Starting in the Campaigns section with a simple tutorial on a level called Farm Life, you can enjoy the calm of the countryside and build a life on the farm–all using Knight moves (one forward/one diagonal in any direction.) The pieces move smoothly and have plenty of character, but aren't animated in the same way as the 1988 Amiga classic Battle Chess, which is a bit disappointing.

To play you must first select your Knight then move to an available tile, thus cultivating it. Moving to another tile will cultivate that, and returning to a cultivated tile will return it to bare dirt, known as an "unlabored" state.

You gain XP by completing levels and by finishing them in certain ways, like not visiting a tile twice or completing the level in a set number of moves. There are also often additional objectives like "Destroy 3 cultivated tiles or less" or "Complete the level in 12 moves or less" to get superior rankings.

The second map is all about football (or soccer if you're American) and in this you use Rooks, Bishops and Knights to score goals–the puzzle being how to pass the ball between the pieces using only the moves that they can make.

The next campaign, Lady Ronin, is my kind of game‐using a Queen's moves to zoom around levels and take pieces. In this game the opposition have learned some new tricks and will attack Lady Ronin and defend each other though, so there's still plenty of tactical thought required.

Dragon Slayers empowers the humble pawn with the ability to slay a dragon by reaching a certain tile. The dragon will attack if the pawn is within its gaze, but you can use other pieces strategically to protect it by drawing the damage from the dragon.

The next section, Battles is all about chess puzzles–scenarios within a game if you will. Knight Supreme has you trying to take the other King's knights and checkmate him, and Soccer Chess is a clever use of movement and keeping possession of the ball while trying to score a goal. It’s vital you’re not caught in possession which means losing that piece. There are 2 other battle modes: Last Stand (capture all other pieces) and Pawn Mania (get checkmate with just your pawns), but more on these later…

Chess Match is self-explanatory and played against other players online, and there are leaderboards for all the chess addicts out there. I was surprised there was no option to play against an AI opponent.

Collection is a display of the different chess pieces/sets you have unlocked by progressing through the Campaign and Battle levels.

So it probably sounds quite clever and umm... chessy and puzzly but you've probably noted the score, so what are the downsides? Well, I spotted at least one typo in the on-screen tutorials and tips, and for some unknown reason mouse controls keep appearing on the HUD. The game actually doesn't feel well optimised for the Xbox controller and the selection cursor is very twitchy, making simply selecting the piece you want to use and the tile you want to move it to fiddly. Some menu selections seem to prefer the D-pad to the Left stick and some don't work at all, including the "continue" prompt after unlocking a new campaign! (All I could do was dashboard>quit>reload, which is fine on the Series X because it only takes a few seconds, but on Xbox One?) I eventually lost patience with Chessarama when unlocking Last Stand just meant that the game locked up on the screen that informed me that "New Battles Game Last Stand" had been unlocked. Ironic, huh? It was “checkmate” for me when similar screens continued to pop up and lock up the game after every subsequent completed level!

So what about those mouse control options being displayed, but no mention of using a mouse anywhere else in the game? I plugged my wireless laptop mouse in that has worked on some other Xbox games but all I could do was scroll an info window and move/zoom the camera, so who knows what happened here?

Chessarama could have been a must-have for chess playing gamers but in its current broken, poorly optimised state it's impossible to recommend. Let's hope developer Minimol gets around to fixing it, then maybe I can return and edit this review to give Chessarama the score a properly working version deserves.

Thanks to Minimol Games and Plan of Attack for the review code.