Games of strategy and logic have been widely played for centuries. One of these games that is known the world over is Chess! Chess has been testing players’ minds since the 6th century, and is renowned as being easy to pick up, but a lifetime’s work to master. Across the years, many new variants have arisen, some have been popular, some more niche. Yet, each has remained faithful to the basic principles, and if you understand one, then you will understand them all. Chess Knights: Viking Lands is a strategy title that uses a few key pieces from the game and asks you to take part in many puzzles.
Developed by Minimol Games and published by QUByte Interactive, this strategic puzzle game will have you scratching your head searching for the answer to many challenging puzzles. Set in a medieval world, you control knights, who must move from one safe zone to another. Your only task is to rescue other chess pieces who are imprisoned by your enemy. This is the main and only premise of this title, and though the key mechanics revolve around the principles of certain game pieces, this should be considered a strategy puzzle title rather than a game of chess.
Chess Knights: Viking Lands is deceptively challenging.
I have taken part in many games of chess over the years and have played for at least 2 decades. Yet, I still have plenty to learn about the finer points to make me a better player. When you play Chess Knights: Viking Lands, you soon realise that you needn’t have any knowledge of the great board game. A simple tutorial explains how the 3 main pieces move, and what you need to do to be successful. Once you feel comfortable with the task at hand, you are chucked straight into the first of 4 worlds. Each of these lands has a variation of a theme to keep things looking interesting, but the same core mechanics apply, albeit in a much more difficult and complex way.
The game becomes increasingly challenging at an alarming rate! The map changes in size, making it much harder to plot a path to victory. Your army of knights alters from a lone fighter to a vast team of sacrificial lambs. The same applies to your enemy’s force; knights, bishops and queens make up the opposing players. You must contemplate which of your team must be sacrificed, and which of the opposition must be removed. As long as you win the stage, losing each of your pieces will not be in vain.
Once you have removed all the unnecessary foes, you must rescue each imprisoned piece and return them back to your starting point. This return journey is as thwarted with danger as the original trip, and you can’t let your guard down. The stage is complete once you have rescued each prisoner, or you lose all your pieces. If the latter happens, then you must restart the level and redo all your hard work.
Mistakes are costly!
If you have played the board game, you know mistakes are costly and can ultimately cause you to lose. This Sword of Damocles hangs above your head throughout each level. An error will cost you your progress, so planning and patience are a must if you wish to be successful.
Minimol Games aren’t entirely cold hearted, and they have allowed for an undo option to be used throughout. But this has its restrictions. You may only revert one turn, so if you have wandered down a dead end, and gone too far, then there is no going back. Also, if your last piece is captured, that’s it! You cannot return to undo your mistake, and its level over. This choice of the developers was both brilliant and infuriating. I cursed both them and my stupidity countless times. Yet, if you could revert many moves, the challenge would have been watered-down, and the gameplay would have become pointless and bland quickly.
Alongside the main story, a mode called “The Lost Ones” can be selected. This additional section allows you to visit 3 extra levels per world. Each one follows the same principles, but the puzzle difficulty is ramped up vastly. These 3 stages will be enough to push you over the edge, and I lost many hours, and much of my sanity attempting to complete as many as I could.
Chess Knights: Viking Lands is easy on the eyes.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high expectations for how this game would look. An indie title that has chess at its heart doesn’t require a triple A presentation. I was pleasantly surprised as I played, as the standard was better than expected. Each world had a distinct look, with a wide range of colours and textures being implemented. The game pieces have a nice level of detail, and the grid-like maps are easy to navigate with a good use of camera rotation, zoom and panning.
The overall visual aesthetics were good until you get to the movement of your own army, and this is where it unravels quickly. A small red arrow rotates around your selected knight, and the locations that it can move are shown with a red circle. This process was cumbersome, hard to control, and led to mistakes repeatedly. It was hard to work out which way the arrow would rotate, and I found I would move to the wrong location, causing me to be captured by the enemy. If you slowed down your approach, this problem was reduced, but when a game is as slow-paced as this one, it was painful, making the process slower still.
Try not to scream!
You may think that this issue would infuriate you to the point of screaming, I admit I was close. Luckily, though, most of your annoyance fades away when you listen to the calming soundtrack that plays throughout. The soft and mellow music helps to set a serene atmosphere that matches the pace of the action. The audio wasn’t anything more than I expected. It won’t go down as a classic, but it works well with both this theme and genre.
It doesn’t work well with a controller.
I can imagine that Chess Knights: Viking Lands works perfectly on its desired platform, the PC. Sadly on console it doesn’t handle as well. The aforementioned issue with moving your game pieces haunts you on every level. No matter how much you move the camera, or try to work around the problem, it never goes away. The only solution is to play at a snail’s pace, however this becomes tedious quickly. A simple solution would have been that each move was shown on the board at all times, and you select which works for you. This would have removed this problem, improving the game no end.
As with most puzzle games, the desire to return is low once you’ve completed it. Even with the addition of “The Lost Ones” mode, there is no getting away from the lack of redeeming features to make you want to play again. Luckily, the high difficulty setting ensures that your first playthough is challenging enough to make this worth your while. Achievements are earned as you progress naturally, but completionists will need a logical mind to earn the 100% status. At around £3 it won’t break the bank and is good value for money.
Is it worth it?
A chess game is always going to be a hard sell to anyone that isn’t an avid fan. But I think that Chess Knights: Viking Lands has enough about it to attract additional players. The difficulty is high enough that lovers of the puzzle genre should get hooked on each of the 4 worlds. Yes, it has its issues, and I simply detest the control setup, but I can’t help but recommend you buy it here! A title that can be played casually between bigger games, and one that will challenge you throughout. Can you control your army of knights and rescue each imprisoned chess piece? Take your time, work out your strategy and defeat the enemy forces.