Reviewed on: iOS (iPhone 6+, iPad Air)
Also available on:
Developer: Damien Sommer
Publisher: Damien Sommer
Most all games owe their existence to some sort of forebearer. Most all fighting games can be traced back to Karate Champ, first-person shooters can all be genetically linked to Wolfenstein 3D, and so on. Even board games have their ancestors — Backgammon, Shogi, Go, and of course, Chess. Almost all games attempt to build upon a winning and familiar formula, and some of them succeed whereas others are not so fortunate, regardless of reason. When I was offered the opportunity to review a new spin on Chess, I jumped at the chance to see if someone had stumbled upon the secret to creating a new classic, a miraculous reinvention of the wheel.
The game is called Chesh, and sadly, it is not the reinvention it touts itself to be. To its credit, it does attempt something new in a familiar package. While it does work on some level, the game crumbles under its own artificially bloated, pseudo-strategic weight. So much so, in fact, that it left me wondering whether the game was the result of laser-focused laziness or simply a mean-spirited joke.
Chesh is played much like Chess, with a checkered board and two layers of pieces for each side. They aren’t your normal, endlessly familiar chess pieces, and they certainly don’t adhere to the standard rules in terms of movement options. Furthermore, the game will randomly select these pieces at the start of the game, so no two games will likely be the same. The largest problem this game has is also its greatest source of strength — there are over five hundred different pieces that can be randomly thrown into the game’s starting positions, and every single one of them has their own unique movement quirks. This causes the game to function like a bastardized fusion of Chess and Calvinball, and since no person will likely ever learn the movesets for all of these different pieces, each game tends to devolve into random moves where all players are left hoping that they hit an enemy piece the first time around.
There are only three things that the game explicitly imparts to players: one, pieces can become fatigued, and when they start shaking, their time will expire after the next move is made. Two, reaching the end of the board allows players to warp to the other side of the board, but only one space. Finally, two pieces are colored differently than the rest, and they’re the “royalty” pieces — losing them means losing a lot, as they represent many bricks on the health bar on each player’s respective side. That’s it. There’s no other tips on playing other than “keep playing to learn each individual piece’s movement options,” and that’s simply not good enough in a game with over five hundred pieces in total.
I can see the concept the developers were trying to express, and to their credit, it’s an interesting one…but sometimes, less definitely translates into more. That’s the timeless beauty of Chess, after all — a limited set of pieces, ridgidly-defined movement options and potential plays ensure that the game has structure and an established sense of order. In the case of Chesh, more certainly translates into less, and the end result proves that the awe-inspiring glut of options and possibilities funnel into but one end result: boredom.
It’s ambitious, but the only thing it truly succeeds in doing is being oversimplified and overcomplicated at the same time. It leaves you with a feeling of being a great concept with no idea how to capitalize on itself, or rather that there’s too many ideas, and they’re all shouting at each other. The player’s job should not be to cut through the conceptual noise in order to latch onto the best idea. If there were one-twentieth of the number of pieces in this game, Chesh might not buckle under the pressure of its premise. As it stands, I can’t recommend Chesh to anyone, especially for a starting price of $2.99 that will eventually rise to $4.99.
The review copy of this title was a digital code provided by the publisher.
A cute pixel aesthetic doesn’t adequately cover up the mixture of ambition and apathy.