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Checkmate Showdown is the chess-themed fighting game I never knew I needed

It's fast, fluid and makes chess 1000x more exciting

A chess knight and a bishop prepare to engage in a 2D fight in Checkmate Showdown
Image credit: ManaVoid Entertainment

Chess tournaments are big, fighting game tournaments are big, so you can see why chess-fighting game hybrid Checkmate Showdown is after some of those eyeballs. It’s a daft, yet competitive combo of the two in which you move chess pieces around a board (yer check mate) and then transition to a side-on fighting game where your pieces beat the shit out of each other (yer showdown) to determine who stays on the board. Does it deserve those eyeballs, then? After playing an early version of it myself, I sure think so.

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Checkmate Showdown starts with typical chess. You'll be taking it in turns with your opponent to move pieces on the board, but when someone tries to take another piece, it’s fight time. Only special pieces battle. Pawns, for example, don’t enter combat to keep things moving fast, but they can be upgraded by reaching the opponent’s side of the board (just as they can be in real chess). Whichever piece wins the side-on fight gets to stay on the board. Getting that win requires you to master both the strategic positioning on the board and the (thankfully easy-to-learn) combat controls that let you punch a bishop in the face.

Surround an opponent’s piece with multiple of your own, for example, and you can choose a partner to help you out. This lets you trigger a special tag-assist attack in the fighting sections, which will cause the partner piece to quickly dart into the arena and whack your opponent for some easy damage.

A player uses a tag-assist move in Checkmate Showdown, causing the orange Queen to kick a purple Knight while the orange Bishop stands back.
Image credit: ManaVoid Entertainment

However, whoever initiates combat (i.e.: moves their piece onto an opponent’s piece) will also get an ultimate attack that they can trigger once during the battle for a huge chunk of the health bar. That forces you to find a balance between carefully placing your own pieces so that your opponent can’t trigger combat and get an easy advantage, while also being aggressive so that you’re able to nab that advantage at every opportunity.

After combat, any damage your piece received will persist between battles. Every piece has their own health bar, and plunging the same one into frequent combat alone is sure to see it get killed off sooner rather than later. To win fights consistently, you’ll need to position yourself strategically to get a tag-assist and ultimate in as many battles as you can.

A chess board in Checkmate Showdown, showing orange and purple pieces.
Image credit: ManaVoid Entertainment

If, like me, you're too tired from school/work/life/whatever makes you want to pull the duvet over your head and not leave your bed to even think anything competitive, then you'll be pleased to hear that Checkmate Showdown is also wonderfully suited to more casual fighting folk as well. I don’t have the strongest grasp of optimal chess moves, for example, but I still found it relatively easy to set up my board up for tag-assists, and it gives me something to work towards that I know can pay off in upcoming fights.

Likewise, the fighting controls are nice and simple, putting it in the same vein as Super Smash Bros and Street Fighter 6 with its modern control scheme. Directional inputs are easy to grasp and remember, but I could also see there's clearly a lot of depth here as well, with throws, guard breaks and move cancels all available for more advanced fighting tactics. But I also found it easy to pick up and play in my hour-long preview session, as someone who’s less interested in the hyper-competitive side of fighting games (although I will enjoy watching it), its simplicity felt like the perfect fit for me when I know some pals are online and want to play something quick.

An orange Bishop counters the move of a purple Knight in Checkmate Showdown.
A bishop uppercut punches a rook in Checkmate Showdown.
Image credit: ManaVoid Entertainment

What's more, on the chess side of things, there’s an anti-stall function called Final Showdown that prevents people from dragging out the game when they’re in a losing position. If 20 consecutive turns pass without combat, Final Showdown kicks in and you enter a series of battles in which all remaining pieces battle it out to quickly decide the victor, ensuring that huge chunks of the match don’t become a stalemate.

Based on what I've played so far, Checkmate Showdown is shaping up to be a fun competition that feels fast and fluid, and something you should definitely have on your radar in this, the apparent year of great fighting games, what with Street Fighter 6 being followed by Mortal Kombat 1 and Tekken 8 later this year. Checkmate Showdown doesn't have a release date yet, but you can find out more on Steam.

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