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Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate Review – Chess, But Not as You Know It

Shotgun King review

Chess and shotguns? That got our attention straight away. That three-word elevator pitch is exactly what Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate is. Playing as a lone king equipped with a shotgun, it’s your job to take down your opponents’ king, avoiding getting taken out in the process. If you’re a chess fan, this brutal take on the classic strategy game is simply wonderful. But if you’re not familiar with the rules, you’re going to have a rough time.

Rather than landing on opponents to take them out, in Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate you need to get into range of them, blasting them to smithereens with your gun. As a king, you can only move one square at a time, but your opponent has a growing suite of traditional chess pieces, all adhering to their classic moves pattern. Your goal is to take out the king, but you’re going to need to pay attention to everything on the board to make sure you don’t unwittingly step in the path of danger.

Initially a product of a game jam, Shotgun King has been around for some time on PC, but this is the first time it’s been playable on other formats. There’s a chance you’re already familiar with it, then, and the console versions don’t offer anything new: if you’ve already played it on Steam, you’re not getting anything extra by buying it again. But for newcomers, this is a mouth-watering little prospect indeed. Somehow a game of chess has been made more exciting, more fast-paced, more fun – all while keeping the same thought-provoking strategy that has helped chess stay relevant for hundreds of years.

Shotgun King review

There’s only one mode available of Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate when you start playing. It tasks you with making your way through 12 “floors”, each getting more difficult as you progress. After clearing a floor, you can choose between one of two cards which offer you a buff, but also buffs the enemy too. So you might get an extra shot, but more opposing pieces might appear on the board. These are always random, and so the difficulty of each progressive floor hinges somewhat on what cards are offered to you.

Related: Chessaria Combines Turn-Based Combat With Chess

Making your way through 12 floors might not sound all that difficult, but if you’re faced with an opposing army made up of multiple queens and five knights – it can happen! – you’re going to have to your work cut out for you. Let’s hope you’ve got some helpful perks up your sleeve. If you’re lucky, you might have picked up some bonus abilities from your cards: maybe an extra life if you get caught out, or the ability to take over one enemy piece once each floor.

Shotgun King review

Once you’ve beaten all 12 floors – including the “boss” that awaits you on the twelfth – you’ll unlock endless mode, which simply challenges you to see how far you can get. Whatever mode you prefer to play on, though, you’ll find its gameplay loop works in the same way – and is just as infectious. This is the sort of game that you’ll struggle to put down once you start. Every failure makes you more eager to try again, desperate to do better each time. That’s the thing with chess: if you get caught out, you’ve only got yourself to blame. Next time you’ll pay better attention, you swear.

Because Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate relies so heavily on players knowing the rules of chess, however, this is going to be a tough game to master if you’re not already at least familiar with chess. You don’t have to be an expert player, but if you’re not at least familiar with each piece and its allowed moves, you’re going to struggle.

It may look basic, but don’t be fooled: Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate is packing one hell of an enjoyable strategy game underneath its old-school aesthetic. If you’re not a chess fan you’re going to struggle – but if you are, the only struggle is going to be tearing yourself away from jumping in for just one more game. Playing chess has never felt so bad-ass.

Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate Review – GameSpew’s Score

This review of Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate is based on the PS5 version of the game, via a code provided by the publisher. It’s available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch and PC.
Editor in chief // Kim's been into video games since playing Dizzy on her brother's Commodore 64 as a nipper. She'll give just about anything a go, but she's got a particular soft spot for indie adventures. If she's not gaming, she'll be building Lego, reading a thriller, watching something spooky or... asleep. She does love to sleep.