Chess Is Stupid Review: Checkmate

Casting on PC is an indie twin-stick shooter Chess is stupid. Developped by hwilson, This original title sees you playing as a player who gets sucked into a chess video game and must fight for your life against giant chess pieces. Each piece moves as it would in-game, and each deadlier than the last! In truth, dear reader, I can’t say that I know much about chess, but I do know how to play video games.

The title offers an interesting twist on the twin-stick indie shooter subgenre and adds subtle levels of depth to the gameplay. With an addictive base loop, this makes for a truly compelling title. One that has something for newcomers and veterans alike. But without further ado let’s get to the review!

Chess is stupid is available on PC via Itch.io.

STORY – CHESS IS STUPIDLY FUN

Chess is stupidThe story of is quite simple. You play as a guy trying to make it in the Chess E-Sports circuit. However, after a series of losses, their ELO score plummets, causing them to declare that “Chess is stupid!”. And then, due to some form of magical trickery, they are pulled into their computer and into a whole new world. A world with massive chess pieces that are ready for revenge! Now lost in this strange land, the player must defeat waves of chess pieces across multiple levels in order to return home.

Okay, I grant you that this is not the most conventional story ever told. And as you can see, the story here is rather quirky and goofy. The writing of Chess is stupid is largely ironic; nothing deeper, nothing more subtextual, it’s just a bit of fun. The story is told in two cutscenes, one appearing at the beginning and the other at the end of the game. Said cutscenes are quite well animated and set the tone that the developers want to convey.

Chess is stupid, I'm stupid, everything is stupid!

Chess is stupid, I’m stupid, everything is stupid!

Overall, it’s a functional, traditionally told video game story. Something that’s an add-on to the experience, rather than the main focus. It’s flavor, garnish and it’s a welcome bonus. The main focus of this particular video game meal is the gameplay and therein lies the quality.

GAME – CULTURE

Chess is stupid is a twin-stick shooter in the style of Crush the TV and titles of that ilk. You move with your control stick and fire using the face buttons on your controller of choice. The controls are easy to learn and very intuitive, even if you’ve never played a title like this before. In fact, I dare say Chess is stupid serves as a nice introduction to the indie twin-stick shooter subgenre.

Chess is Stupid is a great twin-stick shooter for beginners.

Chess is Stupid is a great twin-stick shooter for beginners.

This accessibility is helped by the fact that the title never complicates itself by providing a touch of unnecessary gameplay. What you see in these opening levels is pretty much what you get all along the whole adventure; there is no dodge roll, shot deflection or anything like that. “Run and shoot” is the aim of the game here. And it’s incredibly convenient. It’s simple yet effective, and after the first level or so, you’ll be fully proficient with the controls for the entire feature. However, as easy to learn as the controls are, that doesn’t mean the title lacks depth. Chess is stupid isn’t your standard double-tick shooter, and it’s not without a few tricks his sleeves to help it stand out.

“ISN’T HE VERY KNIGHT?”

The great gameplay feature of this dual-stick indie shooter is that each enemy chess piece moves as it would in a standard chess game; Bishops move diagonally, rooks can move in a straight line, etc. This adds an extra layer of complexity into the mix, as you can’t just run around shooting everything that moves and expect a clean win. You need to make sure you are not on a square that will put you in the direct path of one of the enemy pieces. If you get hit you lose health, you get hit three times and it’s Game Over.

Get a Game Over in Chess Is Stupid and you'll start over at level one.

Get a Game Over in Chess Is Stupid and you’ll start over at level one.

Each level is almost like a puzzle. You need to think very carefully about where you are and where you are going. So many parts can easily run around and damage you in seconds. For this reason, you have to think almost thinking two steps ahead of your opponents. It adds a level of tactical finesse that’s often lacking in other double-stick shooter titles and encourages you to think longer term.

STAR TOKEN

For example, you might decide to leave the pawns until the end since they are the weakest pieces and pose the least threat. However, if they get to the other side of the board, they become a queen; a piece that can move in any direction and is incredibly durable. This can make things more difficult for you and give you a new threat to deal with. Corn you can use this to your advantage, as destroying Queens is your only source of health in the game. So, there is an element of risk and reward to be had if you are particularly daring.

And if a pawn goes all the way, it becomes a queen.

And if a pawn goes all the way, it becomes a queen.

In addition, parts of Chess is stupid can damage the level you are playing on. When certain enemy pieces move, they can damage the square they land on. The first time they land, it will crack the surface. If they damage a tile enough, it will shatter and reduce the amount of space the player has to fight in. And by extension, changing the direction in which certain pieces will be able to travel. It’s a nice feature. One that I wish was more present in the game. Aside from that and the presence of landmines and giant unbreakable shields in later levels, the boards you fight on can become quite similar after a while.

SQUASH BUTTON

A problem I kept running into while reading for the exam of Chess is stupid is that enemy pieces can be bullet sponges. I’d forgive that if it were just for bosses, but that’s the case for almost every room, regardless of rank. It’s not helped by the fact that there are no bonuses to make fights faster or easier. You get the only basic attack and must use it on everything. That in itself can drag out some levels, especially if you have enemy pieces that are easy to dodge but take a lot of hits to defeat.

A boss fight, yesterday.

A boss fight, yesterday.

Overall I feel like Chess is stupid offers a decently nuanced and engaging experience given his length. And much of my criticism comes from the perspective of someone who has played a multitude of Twin-Stick Shooters over the years. As such, someone less familiar with them might be a bit more forgiving. Frankly, it’s not a title you’re going to invest hundreds of hours learning the nuances and tricks of. But it’s a fun challenge that will keep you entertained for an afternoon or two depending on how it hooks you.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND – ROOK ‘N’ ROLL

The artistic design for Chess is stupid has a distinct pixel art style that feels both modern and retro-inspired. It never seems to seek to evoke the allure of one particular system or another, it is his own entity. And it looks good. Each piece is well designed and has been translated well into the game itself; you can easily tell which parts are which. Action games like this live or die by their ability to clearly display and convey information to the player. And in this title, they nail that aspect. Whenever an enemy piece is about to attack, you know it. You know where they will land and where their attacks will hit even if you don’t know much about chess.

Exclamation points indicate where an attack will land.

Exclamation points indicate where an attack will land.

If I have to be critical, though, the game doesn’t scale very well to fullscreen. When you put it in full screen, the title bar and your taskbar are visible, which, while not a deal breaker, can reduce the viewing experience. But that issue aside, the pixel-art scales to larger resolutions without any noticeable stretching or distortion of the visuals. It’s just a minor issue that could be easily fixed or even just ignored by you while playing.

ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK

Unfortunately, the weakest aspect of Chess is stupid is the soundtrack. However, it’s not really the tracks themselves that are the problem, but rather the way they are presented in the game. The music sounds terribly compressed in some cases. I feel like the soundtrack is trying to evoke a more “old school” feel, but the way it’s executed here makes some tracks sound like they’re from an early to mid-years Flash game 2000, more than a nod to the titles of yesteryear. Certainly, if you’re too young to remember this sound, or if you never grew up with these titles, you shouldn’t mind.

The soundtrack of Chess Is Stupid fits the game well, even if it seems a bit

The Chess Is Stupid soundtrack fits the game well, even if it feels a bit “off” to me.

Beyond the sound compression issue, the music itself is decent. Like I said, the tracks themselves are really great. They really convey a great sense of progression in the game, there are a decent number of them and each track has a distinct feel. They are well composed and enjoyable to listen to and really match the tone of the gameplay. And they bring a sense of mystery and urgency, as well as a sense of adventure and action to events. It’s just a shame though that the way they are presented takes something away from me. Of course, your mileage may vary dear listener, because again, aside from that complaint, the soundtrack is excellent.

(This article features a video from Itch.io)

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