Chess Survivors Preview: A Great Gambit

Coming soon to PC Chess Survivors is an indie rogue like chess based action game where you must survive wave after wave of killer chess pieces. Level up, gain new powers, and unlock new characters with their own play styles. But is it any good? Find out in this preview!

Chess Survivors Preview Cover

Developed and published by Aarimous Chess Survivors is an upcoming indie rogue-like set to release on PC. In this title, you will fight to survive against endless waves of killer chess pieces. Along the way, you will gather up a wide variety of powerful abilities and items to help you survive. And, if you are particularly skilled you’ll unlock a selection of new characters as well.

For those of you keeping score, this is the third Chess-based indie game that I have played this year. Following on from Chess Is Stupid and Shotgun King. However, Chess Survivors has an identity and feel all of its own, one that has made this one a joy to play for this preview. Honestly, I had picked this up partly just getting the hat trick on games like it this year. But I soon discovered a title that has a ton of promise and could be one to watch in 2022.

Chess Survivors is currently in Early Access on Steam for £2.49 or your local equivalent.

New Chess based Action Roguelike - Chess Survivors (Early Access Trailer)

Story – Testing Text

As is often the case with titles that I preview here on KeenGamer Chess Survivors has no story. It’s an early-access title after all. And from my time with it, it is clear that the developer’s priority is with the gameplay. Which to me is just grand! Of course, as is the case in situations like this it means we turn our eye towards the practical application of the text within the game; A.K.A. how readable and understandable everything is. And in that regard, Chess Survivors does a fine job. All the text is clear to read and understandable for the most part. With all the vital information on how to play the game being clearly explained to you. As well as all the stat information for the various upgrades and such being straight forwards to process.

It might not look like much, but to a brain like mine, it started to get fuzzy.

It might not look like much, but to a brain like mine, it was a bit much.

If I am to be critical I feel that the tutorial text splash screen you get upon starting the game for the first time feels rather dense to me. I am sure that there will be a full tutorial at a later date. But I do worry that for people like myself who struggle with Dyslexia it might be a bit too much. Granted the gameplay is straight forwards enough to learn. But I do feel that this information could be delivered better. Beyond this Chess Survivors is easy enough to get a hold of. And whilst I wouldn’t mind a little story/backstory to the creatures we play as that is a low priority for me at the moment.

Gameplay – A New King?

Chess Survivors is (as explained in the introduction) a chess-based rogue-like. You select from a collection of unlockable characters as you move around a series of levels, collecting power-ups, levelling up, and avoiding enemy pieces. The aim of each level is to survive a certain number of turns. Once that turn limit has been reached you are sent to the next level. Along the way, you’ll unlock a series of upgrades which will help you deal damage. Said upgrades can stack, creating some truly devastating combos over the course of a play-through.

Or you can just spam a bunch of Yo-yos!

Or you can just spam a bunch of Yo-yos!

All the enemy pieces move as one would expect in a game of chess; Rooks move in straight lines, Queens move in all directions, Knights move in L shapes etc. So if you have a basic understanding of how Chess works you can easily keep track of where you can move to without fear of being attacked. However, there are elite pieces that you need to avoid. These pieces are far more powerful than their usual versions. They will do more damage, but if you can kill them you’ll gain some extra experience points and items. In the event, you are attacked you take damage and once you run out of health it is game over. No instant deaths here. It is all rather straightforward forwards really.

Pawn Handles

I’ll be honest dear reader, when I saw that tutorial splash screen I had worried that the title would be overly complex and hard to get a grasp of. But thankfully I was wrong. The whole idea is rather intuitive and easy to understand. If you have played a twin-stick rogue-like over the past decade or so then you’ll know what kind of thing to expect. Sure, it isn’t a twin-stick, but it plays like one. You need to be constantly moving and you need to select your upgrades carefully; Some come with drawbacks, and whilst they might empower you they could also do the same for your foes. You can control your character using a mouse, keyboard, or controller. But of the three I feel the mouse is the best and lends itself better to the gameplay.

The mouse controls do make harder levels more survivable.

The mouse controls do make harder levels more survivable.

If you have been following my reviews for a decent length of time I dislike making comparisons between titles that share largely surface-level similarities. But, with that said if we are to compare it to the other two Chess based titles I have reviewed this year I feel that Chess Survivors is easier than Shotgun King. It isn’t as punishing and you don’t suffer from the one-shot kill mechanic it has. But it is deeper mechanically than Chess is Stupid. Given how movement works in this one it can be difficult to get your head around; your characters often don’t move like chess pieces do, which means you need to take time to learn those movement patterns to get a decent result.

Queens Innit?

With titles like Chess Survivors, it can be hard to properly express just how fantastic it is to play. Sure, I could just say “It just works” but that feels like a loaded phrase these days. Chess Survivors does everything I have wanted from a game like this; It is a fast-paced chess rogue-like with powerups that stack with decent visual flare. When a run starts you can be so weak that you will struggle to defeat even pawns in short order. By the end of your game, you can melt through even the most powerful of foes with a torrent of bouncy balls and playing cards.

They might be smol, but this wizard is mighty!

They might be smol, but this wizard is mighty!

In all fairness, I don’t feel that Chess Survivors is feature complete enough to be considered perfect. Your selection of unlockable characters is limited. And there aren’t as many abilities and powerups as I think it needs. As such it can get terribly repetitive after a while. But, it is early days, so that is to be expected. So I am interested to see what can be added to this one to make it feel more complete and give it better replay value. As it is that element that can make or break titles like this. I am optimistic that the developer can deliver that. And I am excited to see more from them.

Graphics & Audio – Rook ‘n’ Roll

As is often the case in indie titles, the graphics on show here are pixel art. And naturally as one would expect features pixel art interpretations of chess pieces. I know that goes without saying but this is a game you can play as a Sneezing Ghost. So you could be forgiven from thinking otherwise. The artwork itself is well-designed and is easy to make out what everything is. The character sprites and the sprites of the powers are well-presented and easy to read. Even when I get to the later levels when the screen can be dense with projectiles and enemy pieces I can still clearly make out where I am and where my foes are. Again, I am curious to see how all of these designs evolve as the development continues.

There is something fishy about this one...

There is something fishy about this one…

Chess Survivor’s soundtrack is oddly thrilling. I know that sounds like damning with faint praise but I shall be honest, I wasn’t expecting a soundtrack as good or as exciting as this. It gives an adventurous feel to each of the levels you are in. Giving the game a mysterious feel, but one that is distinctly fantasy-inspired. It really is a great production. And it makes it feel like you are embarking on some great and mystical mission. One that is steeped with danger and peril at every turn. If there is one downside to the soundtrack it is that there is a strange glitch where the game will freeze for a moment as a new track is loaded. It isn’t enough to ruin the game. Given how early the title is in its development I am sure that it will be patched out in time.

Chess Survivors was previewed on PC.

Chess Survivors is a promising up-and-coming title. Even at this point it has a lot going for it which makes for an exciting and slightly addictive game. With great replayablity it is a lot of fun to play and it might be one to look out for in the future.
  • Solid core Gameplay loop.
  • Decent Soundtrack.
  • Best realised version of the Rogue-Like Chess game I have played so far.
  • Can be repetitive
  • May be too hard for some.

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