Puzzle Chess is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not really a puzzle game and it’s only barely like chess. For the life of me however I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s a game that certainly take a different approach to incorporating chess into the mix. While different is always appreciated however that doesn’t always make it great. Puzzle Chess seems to just straddle the line between ok and good.
If you’re here to learn about a game of chess, I suggest you keep on moving. This game has chess influences – all of your enemies have to follow their respective chess move limitations – but the experience in Puzzle Chess is closer to a turn-based adventure than it is the timeless board game. Pawns, Knights, Bishops, Rooks, Queens and Kings… you’ll be pitted against all of them and their varying movements as you make your way through the game.
You’ll play as the single-space moving King, so in order to beat each level you’re going to have to exploit your enemies weaknesses. Enemy pieces jump around the board after each of your moves and can be taken out if you’re careful. If you ever step into a path where they can get you though, good night. Sometimes it’s better to not go for the kill and just get out alive. Also, it’s always a random assortment of enemies each level, not just the standard chess spread. A knowledge of chess pieces and their moves is invaluable here.
Your job in each level is to grab a golden key and make your way to a locked door that will be somewhere on the board. You’ll need to not only avoid and hopefully kill the random enemies on the board, but also be on the lookout for trap doors, bombs, and other obstacles. It can get extremely perilous when trying to keep track of a few pawns, a knight or two and a rook while trying to make your way around some bombs.
There isn’t much variety to be had in the level design, each one looks like a chess board. The squares are made up of different materials as you move through different “lands” but I can’t say that adds any variety. Each of the 3 difficulty levels take you through different places, so there’s some replay here as you won’t be visiting the same places on hard that you did on easy. The lands only seem to serve as a reason to change the board colors, and there’s not even a basic storyline given at the outset as to where you’re headed or why (I’ll guess princess/queen kidnapping).
Puzzle Chess lacks a certain amount of refinement that could have greatly added to the overall experience of the game. There’s no music to be found anywhere. Not in the menu, not in-game. The sound effects are repetitive and dull, and the animation is simple (just a few frames for each piece). None of these things detract from the gameplay in any way but they definitely hurt the overall package. The presentation feels unfinished.
My biggest problem with Puzzle Chess however is the need to start every game over at the beginning. There’s no way to jump back into the more difficult levels that you worked up to in the previous games, and no continues after you run out of lives. The first few levels are easy as pie on any difficulty, so you just feel like you’re going through the motions to get back to the parts where you struggled. It makes the game start to feel tedious much earlier than it should.
In light of these complaints, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy Puzzle Chess as much as I did. Once I got the game down, the puzzle aspect of moving in and around the enemies really was fun. Learning when to go for the kill and when to snatch and grab left me with a good sense of satisfaction after beating the difficult levels. The problem was having to start the game over every time, working through the super easy levels over and over. Puzzle Chess is a fun experience, but in light of all of its flaws and fumbles you can expect the fun to fade out quickly.