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Game Over Online ~ Chessmaster

GameOver Game Reviews - Chessmaster (c) Ubi Soft, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Chessmaster (c) Ubi Soft
System Requirements Game Boy Advance
Overall Rating 78%
Date Published Thursday, September 12th, 2002 at 04:44 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

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 area.

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) territory.

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.


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