Chess Sims are a little like buses. You wait for
one for ages and then two come along at the same time.
We've already reviewed the excellent Virtual Kasparov
some weeks ago but Chessmaster is a well recognised
franchise which has been running well over 10 years
now. As a result we're expecting big things of this
title which has spanned all the major formats and which
has an unmatched pedigree in computerised chess. It
will be interesting to see if it can better the extended
features delivered by the Kasparov title and, just as
important, will it be appealing to both experts and
Firstly let me say that if you haven't played chess
before then this is an excellent route into the thinking
person's game. There are a number of tutorials and after
working through them you should know the game inside
out. From a technical standpoint anyway! Even when playing
early games there's help at hand via the 'hint' option
where the Chessmaster will set you in the right direction
with the best move available. In addition to this you're
treated to famous games dating back over 100 years which
may be fascinating for chess fans but perhaps not so
interesting for the casual gamer.
If you find after all that tutoring you have no one
to challenge with your new found skills Chessmaster
can provide 18 various opponents with varying levels
of AI. This is the all important feature as an opponent
that can judge, predict and act upon your every move
would make for a very frustrating and unrewarding game.
There are ten levels of expertise but most gamers will
want to start around the midway mark. Choosing an opponent
with an AI of ten makes the game almost impossible not
to mention intimidating.
You also have the option to lay down restrictions
such as a time limit for each player to move and a unique
feature allows you to pit two AI players against one
another which always yields surprising results. The
on screen display shows not only the total game time
but also those chess based coordinates comprising of
letters and numbers which seem to baffle most people
even more than map reading does.
As with other board games on handhelds the control
layout replicates that of a PC. It's all simple enough
with 'A' and 'B' taking on the role of the mouse buttons
and the 'D-pad' for movement. Don't let that fool you
though as there are loads of options here so although
the interface is simple you'll still do a fair amount
of button pressing to get your game setup just right.
Although there doesn't seem to be a lot you can do
to change the appearance of chess while maintaining
the game's integrity, Ubi Soft have done just that.
Hidden in one of the options menus is the ability to
alter the chess sets into several imaginative designs
including wood, circus and space. Everything is purely
functional as you'd expect but it is still nice to see
a developer taking risks with such an established game
Sound & Music
It would have been easier to simply skip over this
section rather than tackle the audio side of Chessmaster
at all. Put simply there's the minimum here, the only
real purpose of the sound being to inform the player
that they've selected a piece. Predictable but disappointing
none the less.
There really isn't an awful lot to separate Virtual
Kasparov and Chessmaster as they both do exactly what
they say on the box and where the former has the adventure
mode, this title is far more accessible to younger players
as a result of the numerous board styles and learning
curve. It really is a 'try before you buy' situation
but chess enthusiasts will be pleased to know that Chessmaster
proves to be a worthy opponent and provides an enjoyable
and fulfilling game.