Chessarama is a Chess-based Puzzle game releasing on the Xbox Series and Steam on the 5th December 2023. Developed by Minimol Games, and published by Minimol Games and Hawthorn Games.
Chessarama manages to coax creativity out of one of the oldest games in history, satisfying players even if they’ve never picked up a pawn.
Chessarama – Fit for a King
Minimol’s latest was a finalist in the BIG festival for Best Brazillian Game, made it into the official selection for six other festivals, and even partnered with the Champions Chess Tour. After joining the world’s biggest online chess tournament, the game is finally releasing on Xbox and Steam this month. Even for a novice like me, this run up to launch has got me raring to give it a go!
If you’ve played this game tell us what you thought in the comments below!
Chessarama’s core offering is that of a smorgasbord of Chess-derived puzzles and challenges. Each gamemode takes different aspects of the classic game and expands on them to create new experiences. Thoughtfully presented, these Puzzles are approachable in their design, allowing any player an opportunity to test their skills.
Setting the Board
To start your journey with Chessarama, all you need to know is how the pieces move. Thankfully, even that can be explained to you through the game’s well crafted tutorials. The pacing of the challenges themselves helps players feel in control too, starting simply and then developing the core concepts in complexity to challenge what skills you’ve developed so far.
But the game doesn’t shy away from tempting players with a harder nut to crack, either. Many levels have additional challenges and extra win conditions to provide an extra layer of difficulty. These range from simple move limits to more specific challenges for specific gamemodes.
The Game Modes
The game modes on offer provide a good cross-section of classic mechanics, all diverse enough to satisfy perusing players.
Farm Life challenges players to move a Knight around the board without visiting the same square twice. Experienced Chess-heads might recognise this as a “Knight’s Tour”. Minimol has redefined it as a horse-headed farmer sowing a crop on a series of funkily-shaped fields. With extra challenges that encourage players to think ahead to land their final move on a given space, it’s a game that teaches players the skills that will put them in good stead for the harder puzzles to come.
My personal favourite, Street Soccer entails a team of jersey-clad pieces playing on a city pitch. Players search for a path through cones and goalkeepers to score a point in a match of movement. Pieces pass a ball along the lines that they can ordinarily move. Players are challenged to think laterally, to see and create opportunities that may be less obvious on a regular board.
There are other modes available, each exploring different aspects of chess. I haven’t quite cracked those yet – but the challenge itself is great fun, and I will be going back to beat ’em!
Learning Through Doing
One thing I picked up on as I played the games on offer is how Chessarama effectively teaches the player. The subtleties of Chess are explored through engagement with fun puzzles. Movement and opportunity are developed a la Street Soccer. The later Knight Supreme challenge mode encourages thinking three steps ahead. Chessarama teaches players better Chess fundamentals. I went in under par and came out feeling more confident in my abilities than ever.
Most importantly, in all the games the core concept is communicated cleanly and effectively. Players know their goals and what they can do to achieve them. This is one of the most important things a puzzle game can do, and Chessarama does it easily. The game rarely, if ever, feels unfair.
Unlockables and Progression
As you play through Chessarama’s game modes, you’ll unlock new pieces in the Collection menu. Keeping track of notable milestones of your progress, it’s a nice way to visualise your completion, if not necessarily your skills.
Chessarama operates using an XP system to pace access to content, with XP rewarded for completing levels and bonus challenges. The more you play and learn, the more you’re rewarded. These rewards range from new game modes, like the excellent Lady Ronin, to new chess sets for Online Play, and new titles.
The XP system is a good way for the game not to overwhelm newer players with content early. However, it can lead to engagement dips. When you want to get stuck in with a new challenge, but unlock a title for online play instead, it can drag a touch. Going back to old levels to try and squeeze some more XP out of the challenges is constructive, but not satisfying.
One choice that confused me was that you had to unlock Online Chess through the XP system. It does make sense – keeping it back until a player has some experience guaranteed under their belt means a higher quality of matches overall. But it does feel strange to have to unlock straight-up Chess at all.
As for the Online Chess itself, it’s a faithful representation of the classic game through and through. With an inbuilt 5 minute timer for each player, the games rarely fail to keep at an entertaining pace.
Graphics & Audio
Chessarama adopts a simple and cartoonish visual style that strikes a balance, providing a playful tone without compromising the game’s strategic focus. Clarity in design ensures easy piece distinction, but it doesn’t stop Minimol’s art team from making each board fun. The game’s art style is not only eye-catching but also fun and approachable. Vibrant city streets and snowy fields make appearances as backdrops for strategic throwdowns, with unique chess sets for each to boot!
This willingness to have fun with the game’s presentation whilst never forgetting the game’s analytical roots is carried through to the soundtrack too. Each board is accompanied by a unique track that manages to play with the aesthetics of the game without being distracting to a player planning their next moves. This is extended to the sound design in general too, with sound effects being deployed with intention rather than as a matter of course. It all sums up to a game that’s thoughtful about how it engages with the player beyond the board.
Chessarama’s shares the strength of Chess in its replayability. Each game mode has plenty of handcrafted levels, each with its own share of extra challenges, and the game’s sandbox puzzle modes allow for a repeatable challenge that will keep players in top form.
If that wasn’t enough, Chessarama’s online play option lets players partake in the classic game that’s already proved itself over a thousand years. In short, for as long as you have an interest in Chess or a good puzzle, you’ll have something to do in Chessarama.
In an increasingly cluttered world of chess-inspired gaming, Chessarama by Minimol Games is a standout release. An XP system that might be a bit clunkily implemented doesn’t detract from what the game does well – A fun and thoughtful presentation combined with engaging and novel concepts to hook players, even those who (like me) aren’t normally fans of Chess.
The variety of game modes on offer lets Minimol show their passion for the mechanics, the art style enhances an already polished core, leaving Chessarama as a game fit for a king—or anyone seeking a fresh take on the classic game of chess! For that reason, it takes away a Thumb Culture Gold Award!
If you’re still in the mood for strategy, but perhaps on a grander scale, why not check out Jason’s Cities: Skylines II review here? In the meantime, keep an eye out for more features on great indie games right here on Thumb Culture!
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.