The game of chess has been played the world over for centuries, easily known as one of the most popular games ever, played on a chequered 8 by 8 squared board as two teams and armies pit themselves against each other; one white, one black. Different pieces have various roles of attack and defense, providing a brain teasing experience as strategy and deep thought come to the fore. Chess Knights: Viking Lands takes that world of chess and mixes it up with the invasion of the Vikings because, well, why not? But does this mash-up of one of the world’s greatest tactical games with puzzling elements blend perfectly together? Or does it put you in checkmate from the start?
Chess Knights doesn’t need you to understand the deep mechanics of how to play chess, and it’s just as easily accessible to those new to the game as much as a Grandmaster; in a very quick tutorial it gives you the basics of how you will need to move three pieces across the world. Set in the early Middle Ages, the premise is that you are the Vikings and need to rescue some prisoners. To do this you will need to successfully move across the board, mainly using the Knight pieces, avoiding enemies, and getting them back safely. That’s pretty much it.
In essence this is a puzzle game that will have you working out routes across the board world, where success and failure fast become the staple diet as you try and complete all 50 levels which are spread over four different worlds.
You start the game small, with only one Knight piece, one prisoner to capture and no enemies to get in your way. And it is here where the standard chess moves come in as you move a Knight across the board in the usual way – two steps horizontally and one step vertically or one step vertically and two steps horizontally. So with this in mind, you have to navigate across the board carefully so you can reach the prisoner and then safely go all the way back again using the exact number of moves given.
As you progress, Chess Knights: Viking Lands begins to get pretty tough, especially as the maps get bigger. Soon other pieces are added on the enemy side. Rooks can move across the whole board both horizontally and vertically. Bishops can shift themselves diagonally. Queens can run riot and will become the bane of your life. What you do get though is more Knights to play with as the game progresses; some stages might see you start with three Knights, and this is where sacrificing comes into play. You see, if you put your Knight into the path of the enemies it will destroy them, but also it destroys itself thus making the board a little bit easier. Or trickier, depending on the moves you take.
What does occur though is that you really have to plan out your route and execution, possibly through trial and error – something that comes especially true in the later levels. Throughout your time you’ll find that death and failure comes around, leaving you to restart whole levels again. And there will be times when you just get stuck in a sort of stalemate where the only way out is to restart. Whether you have the patience and willpower to persevere through moments like these will ultimately determine whether you enjoy this game or not.
I found the setup intriguing, and whilst the puzzle-solving is very simple to start with, it doesn’t take long for things to begin to grow into something more complex. It’s not helped by the control scheme which is initially a bit baffling, and the developer’s choices in terms of configuration aren’t the most intuitive to use. Just working out how to move the pieces was a challenge in itself. But once you get into the swing of it, like all games there is no turning back.
In the looks department, Chess Knights has a nice and pleasant visual sheen to it. The colours are good and it provides the type of atmosphere you would expect of a game of this price and genre. The different worlds it takes you to are well-designed, but essentially they work as a backdrop from the puzzles, fading into the background. The soundtrack is very calming and serene though, which comes in handy as you will want to cry when the difficulty ramps up.
Chess Knights: Viking Lands on Xbox is pretty unique and the mash-up between Vikings and chess is one that I could never have imagined would work. But as a puzzler, it does – even if the control scheme doesn’t particularly help matters. On the whole though the puzzles are clever and if you’re into your brain teasers then you can’t go wrong with what’s on offer here.