Chess Survivors Review: A Smashing Challenge

Out now on PC comes Chess Survivors. In this Rogue-Like Indie title developed by The Aarimous you must survive wave after wave of killer chess pieces. Collect power-ups, treasures, and level up to advance through the title's three levels. All the while unlocking new characters to play as. But is it any good? Find out in this review!

Chess Survivors Review: A Smashing Challenge

Developed and published by Aarimous Chess Survivors is an indie rogue-like out now on PC. In this title, you play as one of a wide variety of strange characters who must survive against wave after wave of killer chess pieces across the game’s three worlds. Along the way, you will gather up a wide variety of powerful abilities, new powerups, and items to help you survive. And, if you are particularly skilled you’ll unlock a selection of new characters as well.

Chess Survivors is a title that I previewed back in the tail end of 2022. And since then I’ve been looking forward to seeing how the game would evolve and be developed from there. And it seems to be that the past few months have been spent refining and tweaking the gameplay. With a few new twists, upgrades, and powerups thrown in for good measure. All creating an overall decent experience.

Chess Survivors is out now Steam for £4.49 or your local equivalent.

New Chess based Action Roguelike - Chess Survivors (1.0 Release Trailer)

Story – The Write to Survive

So this is the second game on the bounce that I’ve reviewed on KeenGamer that doesn’t have a story. And is often the case I state again that this isn’t an issue for me. I have always felt that gameplay was king when it came to videogames. I will admit that when it came time to review Chess Survivors I was wondering if one would be added in or not. As given the mysterious tone and feel of the game in the preview (and in the release) there was a part of me that was wondering if something bigger was going on in the game world. There frankly isn’t. And that is fine. To be blunt I feel that a story would have gotten in the way of the game too much. Especially given what kind of game this is.

Chess Survivors's user interface can get lost in the heat of battle

Chess Survivors’s user interface can get lost in the heat of battle

As is the case whenever a title is lacking or light on story I turn my critical gaze to the UI and fonts used within it. And I have to say that Chess Survivors does well for the most part. Everything is clear and easy to read. The descriptions of the various upgrades and items you find are clear enough to be understood. However, I will admit that the in-game UI can be hard to keep track of. Your health, experience, and loadout are tucked into a corner on the top left. Well out of the way of line of sight. Whilst it does make navigating the world easier as it isn’t blocking anything. At the same time, it is so far out of the way that keeping track of things can be harder than it should be. Though I will admit that your mileage will vary on that matter.

Gameplay – Pawn Again

Chess Survivors is a hybrid Chess Rogue-like game. However, unlike other similar titles that I have reviewed, you do not play a chess piece. You select from a cast of characters each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Each moves in their own way and starts with a particular loadout and powerset. With new characters unlocked the more that you play the game. Your goal is to survive for a certain number of turns on each level. All the while gathering powerups, levelling up, upgrading, and defeating enemy pieces as they appear. The further into a level you get the more enemy pieces will spawn.

Chess Survivors features a range of unlockable characters.

Chess Survivors features a range of unlockable characters.

Some of these will be elite pieces which are larger, have more health, and do more damage. All of the enemies you face are chess pieces. And they all move as you’d expect they would do. So having a basic understanding of how to play can help. I wouldn’t say it is essential. This is a rogue-like after all. And given how many times you will die you’ll soon get a grip on that before too long. There aren’t many tricks or surprises to be aware of. And even if surprises show up they are easy to navigate.

Pawn Handles

Chess Survivors is not a difficult game. Granted I am slightly biased as I previewed it some months ago and have reviewed similar titles on either side of it. The overall flow and rhythm to it is not too dissimilar to many Rogue-Like twin-stick shooters. Keep moving, always be attacking, try not to get surrounded, and select your upgrades wisely. Sure, it isn’t a twin-stick game. But it is close enough. With every attack you make either being ones that are almost always active or activating when you move. So there is no need for accuracy. And it is all done with a mouse, keyboard, or controller.

I feel Chess Survivors plays best with a mouse.

I feel Chess Survivors plays best with a mouse.

The controls themselves are fine. I feel mouse control works best for the sake of precision. Given how tight things can get and how narrow some of your escapes can be selecting with a mouse works best. But all work perfectly fine for what they need to do. The pace of the game can increase dramatically in the latter stages of a run. So you need a control scheme that works well for. Which is thankfully what we get here.

Power Of Three

There are three levels in Chess Survivors. Each with varying turn limits you need to survive. And each with increasingly difficult foes to face. I must say that the upgrades and power-ups you can find stack fantastically well. And it is one of my favourite things I enjoyed during my playthrough of Chess Survivors for this review. Building up my loadout and taking a weak character to one that has screen-filling attacks every turn is always fun. I will grant you that this is helped (or hindered) by who you play as.

I won't lie, I feel the Koala is the worst character.

I won’t lie, I feel the Koala is the worst character.

With some player characters having a far harder start than others. And some have early access to powers that can get stupidly powerful by the end. And seeing how these powers can stack does add an extra layer of replayability that should keep curious minds coming back to it. Additionally, there are some items that you can find that will buff your foes. So if you want to add a little extra challenge mid-way through a run that is an option too.

The Long Game

I must admit however that Chess Survivors is a rather short game. You only play over three worlds. Each one is functionally identical. And with there being little to really shake up the gameplay bar the gambit mode it may not leave much of a lasting impression on some gamers. Almost everything can be seen, played, and tested in an afternoon. So if the core gameplay loop doesn’t grab you then this might not be for you. The truth is that Rogue-likes are repetitive by their nature. And if variety is what you are looking for then you may be disappointed. Personally, I am willing to forgive that for the most part given sold the gameplay is.

Your damage output in the late game can get insane!

Your damage output in the late game can get insane!

However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting more. But as a game, you can easily pick up and play when you’re bored or have some time to kill it really scratches that itch. And who knows, maybe the developer will add more power-ups and such into the game? Sure, that isn’t to say the game feels unfinished. And I admit I may be somewhat biased as I had unlocked almost everything from my preview. So anyone coming into this fresh might find more than enough content to cover the entry price.

Bash The Bishop

Of course, there is no getting away from the fact that as much as I have enjoyed playing Chess Survivors both in the Preview build and now Review build it is a niche game. Well, it is more of a niche within a niche. It is a semi-chess game in a rogue-like. It could be a hard sell for people who aren’t fans of this kind of game. And whilst it isn’t unfriendly to beginners it does feel a tad more involved than most others that I have covered here at KeenGamer.

Chess Survivors is a COOL game, ha!

Chess Survivors is a COOL game, ha!

Still, I will give the developer credit. The sheer level of creativity in the gameplay shown here is great to see. Whilst it isn’t a revolution of the genera or sub-genera it still makes for an addictive experience. And a challenging one at that. While it isn’t the most faithful of the chess-themed games I’ve reviewed it is probably been one of the more engaging. It has a great replay value which a title like this always needs.

Graphics & Audio – Rook On!

Alright dear reader. This is going to sound like an odd thing to say in this review, but Chess Survivors has an odd artsyle. I don’t mean that in a negative way. And I will admit that it feels like damning with faint praise. But it is the best word I can come up with! In the game, all the enemy pieces look more or less as you’d expect them in any digital chess title. However, your cast of characters also has a more typical videogame look to them. This gives them an uncanny feeling. Like they’ve been pulled in from another world and are forced to survive this strange chess world.

Chess Survivors has a pleasant yet functional artstyle.

Chess Survivors has a pleasant yet functional artstyle.

However as good as the art design is thankfully said designs are easy to read. And given how fast-paced this game can be this is great. As visually complex designs would hinder the gameplay. And thankfully that isn’t the case here. It works every ounce as much as it should do. Chess Survivors‘s soundtrack has a great tone to it. Feeling equally mystical, fantastical, and adventurous. But it also at times has a sinister and mysterious tone to it. Even if there are a few tracks I feel are a little too chill for their own good. As much as I enjoy the soundtrack there is this occasional bug where the game will freeze for a couple of moments as it loads in a new track. Hopefully, that will be remedied in future patches.

Chess Survivors was reviewed on PC.

Chess Survivors is a ton of fun. Providing gamers with a challenging Rogue-Like Survival game with an innovative twist. With plenty to unlock as well as find across your many runs, there is much to keep players coming back for more. However, the game lacks variety and may feel too repetitive for some. And those who don't have a basic understanding of how chess works may struggle initially. But it makes for an over all refreshing experience.
  • Great twist on Chess.
  • Solid Gameplay.
  • Decent Replayablity.
  • Power-ups Stack well.
  • Lacks Variety.
  • May be too short for some.
  • Soundtrack is bugged.

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