I love chess. I was a member of a chess club back in school many moons ago, and even played in a regional championship in Oldham. We all had individual tables, with stop clocks to hit when we had finished our turn and everything. I even still have my rosette, despite only winning two of my six matches. What do you mean you’ve never heard of me?
Another fond chess memory of mine was whilst away on holiday, in a dimly lit bar in Dublin late at night, locked in an intense game with a friend and drawing a small crowd. So as you can imagine, I jumped at the chance to play again, intrigued to see the take Brawl Chess – Gambit would have on the classic “game of kings”.
In the interests of transparency, if you don’t like Chess, I’ll save you some time. Read no further because there’s nothing here for you, my friend.
The harsh truth is that Brawl Chess does very little to “jazz up” the ancient game, and those opportunities don’t come around all too often. The “brawl” part of the title refers to the animations that play out as a piece is taken, which mostly take place behind a cloud of dust. You’ll see other animations when the king is put into check, or you threaten to take a piece, but it’s decent at best. Instead, it feels like a missed opportunity to hammer home the “brawl” part of Brawl Chess.
The game will cost you £8.39, which seems fairly reasonable until you checkout its competitors and what more they offer. Brawl Chess does also give you the opportunity to buy extra characters to play as for 79p a go. However, as they just stand at the side of the screen doing little of anything, it’s hard to justify these costing anything at all. If, for your 79p, you were given brand new themed sets to play, complete with their own animations, then that would feel more like value for money.
Instead, you can choose between the default set, which in all fairness is well-designed and fits the theme of the game pretty well, or the classic designs for the pieces. This will at least stop those opponents complaining that they were getting their pieces confused (we all know who they are), when in fact it’s just because they’re a bit rubbish.
You can play Brawl Chess against the game’s AI, a local opponent and, well… that’s it. There’s no internet functionality here, which feels like a missed opportunity. For a game like this, a lack of online matchmaking cuts replayability drastically. This is especially apparent due to current limits on all of our social lives.
When playing against the AI, you can choose from five difficulties ranging from very easy to very hard. Naturally, looking at my chess career through rose tinted glasses, I went straight in on very hard. Rather oddly, the computer decided to sacrifice its queen early on, when we were pretty much even in terms of pieces captured. That tactic was followed with the other pieces. However, my skills are clearly rusty as I was defeated in our first match, and after a further two failed attempts I had to reduce the difficulty. The humble pie did not taste good.
Whilst in a match each player is timed – as far as I could tell this is for no obvious purpose. There is no limit or penalty for taking ages to make a move, so in effect the timer is redundant.
Also, a word of warning. Be careful when you pause the game. If you hit “B” instead of the pause button, and you naturally will do this to go back, you’ll be instantly taken to the main menu and lose all game progress. Being asked “Are you sure?” would have been a welcome safety net here.
To be clear, choosing your character (of which there are two unless you purchase more) and playing a traditional game of chess is all that’s on offer here. Despite the visual frills, which do look good in a similar way to a comic strip (or rather, more oddly, reminded me of a video slot machine I used to play online), there are no other points of differentiation. In terms of content, it’s a meagre offer at best.
It might seem like I have had very little positive to say about Brawl Chess – Gambit on Xbox, but that’s because it enables players of all ages to play chess, and that’s about it. There are better options out there for the avid player, which makes this very hard to recommend. Don’t let the funky visuals fool you: what’s on offer here is a skirmish as opposed to a brawl.