I’m always up for a good puzzle game. I mean, there are only so many times I can carry the team in Zombie Army 4, or save the day in Forza Horizon 4, and sometimes it’s just nice to sit down, ease back on the throttle of life and try to solve some brain teasers. This leads me neatly onto the subject of a new puzzle game from Minimol Games. Going by the name of Knight’s Retreat, it promises to be chess, without being chess. It all sounds very zen to me, sort of like what is the sound of one hand clapping.
First off, the whole “chess without chess” thing is a bit of a misnomer. A better description would be “chess without a chessboard”, as there are various chess pieces featured in the game, and they all behave in the exact same way as they would do on a chess board. But there is no board. What there is instead are some concrete looking-slabs, one or more orangey slabs, which are the targets, and then the pieces.
Now, as the game is called Knight’s Retreat, you might imagine that the knights are to stand guard and let the queen get away, yeah? Well, not a bit of it. On each map, there is one (or possibly more) orange Knight pieces, and the goal of each level is to move the orange Knight to the orange square. That’s it. Now, the Knights move exactly as they do on a chess board, in a kind of horizontal or vertical “L” shape. What this means is you have to plan a route through the increasingly difficult levels and, just to add a little bit of spice, when you move an orange Knight, the square he was stood on is destroyed by arrows. This of course means no backtracking, so a few moments of planning before going all gung ho is a very good idea.
The orange Knights are not the only pieces that you have to contend with. There are Rooks, which can move in straight lines only, Bishops, who can move as many squares as you like, as long as they are diagonal, other Knights, and finally the Queen, who can move in any direction for any distance. Rearranging all the other pieces to allow the Knights to escape can get tricky, and with the addition of other mechanics like pressure plates that rearrange the ground that the pieces are stood on to get to grips with, it soon becomes very tricky indeed. Luckily, if you move one of the other pieces, the ground they were stood on stays intact – thank heavens for small blessings.
There are 80 hand-crafted levels to go at here, split into four worlds, and while I said that I like to unwind with this type of game, it isn’t too long before my brain starts to melt. Luckily, having played on the chess team in my primary school, the skills I learned all those years ago (37, if you’re interested!) has stood me in good stead.
Graphically, Knight’s Retreat is simple, yet effective. The pieces are easy to identify, and the camera can be moved into almost any position you like, zoomed in and out to your heart’s content. I find it easiest to plan a route while looking down almost vertically onto the board, almost like the classic chess games of yester-year, as this way it’s easy to plan the Knight” moves out in your head. One slight caveat with this view is that it is hard to tell the difference between a Bishop and a Queen from overhead, but a quick attempt to move them will reveal which piece they are. A special mention has to go to the music too, which is wonderfully calming and adds to the whole relaxing vibe of the game, helping to bring the pulse rate down when you manage to maneuver yourself into a losing position.
So, does Knight’s Retreat on Xbox have what it takes to peel you off the ceiling after another round of Golf With Your Friends? Well, the short answer is yes. It’s one of those games you can switch on for a few moments while you look to kill time, scratching off a couple of levels, and then coming back to it again later. It is quite gripping as well, with a real draw to keep playing. If you’re looking for a game to tickle the little grey cells, you may just have found it with Knight’s Retreat. The only real complaint is that once you’ve nailed the 80 levels, that’s about it; there isn’t a score for each level, and so the urge to carry on playing once it is defeated just isn’t there.