It's surprising that on the Game Boy Advance, there are far fewer chess
games than there are 2D platform action games. Why is that?
Chessmaster illustrates how difficult it is to include a comprehensive
chess game that can pay homage to the Chessmaster name; arguably the
best, most popular and friendliest chess title for the past decade.
Chessmaster's debut on the Game Boy Advance slips up in some cases due
to the constricted space but is able to offer a complete chess package
that does not do its namesake any shame in terms of breadth and content.
One reason why it is able to achieve this is its approach. Chessmaster
takes a conservative approach in terms of graphics. You won't find any
snazzy 3D here. You won't even find animated battles between pieces.
By default, it presents a clean, clear cut 2D chess board from a top
down view. The size, pieces and squares on the board are perfect, easy
to manipulate and the colors not too muddled that you can't distinguish
the different pieces or which side you're on. One of the trademarks of
Chessmaster, however, is the ability to customize your game. You can
substitute the pieces with everything from a Napoleonic war set to a
children's clown set. Not all of them are functional but it gives the
chessboard a different look.
This version of Chessmaster, however, is very well tailored towards
children and the lay chess player. It has plenty of aids and skill
levels to make the learning curve for chess much shallower than before.
For example, it has in-game features to prevent you from making moves
that will result in a check or checkmate. Moreover, there is a helper
to assist you in finding out what moves are possible with different
pieces by highlighting possible destination points on the chessboard;
perfect for beginning players. You can also swap AI players of varying
difficulties in and out of the game at will. One of the features I
appreciated most was the ability to reverse playing sides if you find
yourself frustrated; a very good way for beginners to improve, since you
can see what you could have done and also learn to attack what you have
done. While Chessmaster lacks a list of moves, it lets you freely parse
back and forth the game's history and you can play from any point you
want. Finally, a save game feature rounds out the list of aids but
sadly, it only supports saving of a single game.
Chessmaster is known for its depth of features but as you can see from
the list of aids, it doesn't signify it has to be intimidating for
players. What was most surprising about Chessmaster was its inclusion
of a tutorial that teaches you in set games how to best maximize the use
of your pieces, including tricky moves like castles and turning pawns
into queens. Chessmaster uses interactive features, rather than boring
notation, to illustrate how these can be done. It even teaches you how
to read notation, should you want to know about it. However, the small
screen of the Game Boy Advance isn't always friendly to the
chess-playing experience. Chessmaster's tutorials want to be very
loquacious but there's little space for the text and often throughout
the game, you'll find that on-screen text is sacrificed for the playing
This becomes a problem when you play out the 150 recorded chess games.
That's something I completely did not expect to carry over from the
Chessmaster series but it is here, albeit in a limited form. There's
little commentary on how the game is playing out, what potential moves
were going through the player's minds or when a serious mistake is about
to be made; the ones that turn a winner to a loser or vice versa. Thus,
except for the most patient and self-disciplined learners, you might
want to trade up to a larger screen if you're depending on the chess
library to educate yourself.
That said, Chessmaster clearly illustrates it has comprehensive breadth.
With that breadth, it is able to successfully leverage its franchise's
features to good use in the handheld format. While I'm not in any
position to judge the strength of Chessmaster's AI engine on the Game
Boy Advance, it does provide challenge and not necessarily at the
expense of your time by making you wait minutes before each move is
made. However, on the default setting, I found it erred towards the
aggressive side even when I was making very classic opening moves. It
often had no qualms about sacrificing sole pawns deep in enemy (my)
The lack of commentary, single save game slot, clumsy or missing text
and a smaller library of pre-recorded games is all that is tripping up
this master. But even with these faults, it doesn't diminish the
attractiveness of the game of chess. There is a reason why this
namesake has literally dominated chess in the past decade. With
Chessmaster's plentiful aids, this can be a chess game appreciated by
all ages and players of all levels. Considering the price of the title
itself, it will likely cost less than the combination of a good chess
manual and a half decent set, making Chessmaster for the Game Boy
Advance a good buy all around.