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Radical Chess Online – Review

Chess is one of those games which everyone knows about but doesn’t really know how to play. It’s surprisingly popular online and chess masters have been honing their skills for centuries. It can be intimidating for newcomers, but what if we take that classic game and add in a bunch of RPG mechanics?

a neon chess board ready to get started

Radical Chess takes the classic formula and merges it with classic turn-based battle, giving your pieces magical skills to help your progression. Taking your opponent’s pieces initiates a Geometry Wars-style battle where even the lowest of pawns have a chance to claim victory. Winning battles and sitting on magic tiles also levels your pieces up and they can level up to gain access to new skills and better weapons in battles.

a demon piece fighting a knight

There’s also an “Arena” mode which lets you practice these battles. You get a copy of each piece and pit them against each other but not all pieces are drawn equally. They each have a different fire-rate and range which greatly improves as you work up the pecking line to the King. You could start with a stronger piece though and try gaining an early lead, but you can still win with weaker pieces if you’re able to avoid taking damage long enough. It’s a fun and a good way to practice battles to avoid disappointment at the very least.

The neon graphics lend a retro vibe and the music leans into this, but I would have appreciated some options to turn them down. I found them a little overstimulating at times and made a bunch of mistakes simply because I didn’t realise I had a piece selected. There is an auto-complete option for the battles, which I’d consider an accessibility option, but it should probably come with an epilepsy warning.

a chess board with lots of pieces scattered over them

There were also no tutorials, which wouldn’t be a problem if this were a normal game of chess. The skills are self-explanatory for the most part, but there was some trial and error involved. I was surprised by the battle pop-up since you use WASD to control your piece’s movement while aiming with the mouse when I had only been using the mouse up to that point. However, after a bit of investigation and watching the AI opponent, I began to see the different strategies unfold.

A few games started slow as my opponent and I moved pawns to the magic tiles to level up and used our kings to power the rooks so they could move and drop AoE damage against the frontlines. I tried using the queen’s “demon” summoning power, which drops a monster on the enemy of your choice, and took out some of the more powerful pieces early on, but found myself overpowered later in the game.

a king and queen shooting at each other

If you already have knowledge of chess and RPGs then you should be able to pick up Radical Chess Online pretty easily. I would recommend trying out the AI opponent a few times before trying it online against human opponents. I didn’t really get to try this feature too much though and it looks like there were issues with online mode previously.

I like what Radical Chess has tried to do and, with some polishing, there’s real potential for an excellent game here. The mechanics and gameplay are fun, but I would have liked more beginner-friendly options rather than being thrown into a game with an AI of unknown difficulty. Maybe my ego is just a little too fragile for the multitude of beat-downs I took before finally getting to grips with the system. Perhaps I just suck at chess.

If you’re looking for a blast of neon lights, chess and retro gaming then Radical Chess Online could be your next best game of the year. You can find Radical Chess here https://thalamusdigital.itch.io/rco

6.5/10 rating

Platform: PC, Itch

Developer: Thalamus Digital





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