Publisher/Developer: Ubi Soft
Release Date: August 2002
Chessmaster has been the number one best-selling Chess computer game for ages, so Ubi Soft’s decision to bring it to the GBA is perhaps a no-brainer. You’ll be able to choose from 18 opponents, each with their own varied levels of difficulty and unique strategy methods. And aside from your standard-issue chess niceties such as 2-player link-up modes and a full-featured tutorial mode Ubi Soft was also nice enough to include such endowments as over 150 famous recorded games from which to learn new strategies and 10 different chess sets ranging from classic to off-the-wall. Yes, the developers really went the extra mile to provide a multitude of incentives in hopes of garnering your gaming bucks. No matter if you’re a novice, intermediate, or advanced chess player chances are you’ll garner more than a few hours of entertainment from Chessmaster.
A chess game can boast all the features in the world, but if it doesn’t also sport easy to learn and intuitive play-control dynamics than it’s all but worthless. Luckily, Chessmaster is not only intuitive and pick-up-and-play friendly but also gives you a multitude of options that you’ll be able to utilize in-between moves which allows you to receive advice, rotate the board, and save your game so you can pick up where you left off if for some reason you need to turn the game off. Moving your various chess pieces around is simply a matter of hitting A on the piece you want to move and choosing the desired drop location. Moving the cursor around is (obviously) achieved with the D-pad and choosing a piece is quite simple since the cursor has somewhat of an auto-aiming feature that automatically situates itself on the nearest piece once you let off of the D-pad.
The opponent A.I. can be easily set to any desired difficulty level and you’ll find that even advanced players can be quickly thrown for a loop on the higher difficulties. The problem with computer-controlled opponents however, is not in their lack of A.I. capability but in the time duration it takes for the computer to finally choose what it wants to do. This may be intentional so as to emulate a real chess match but the end result is wasted battery consumption. It may not be intentional though since this problem only seems to rear its ugly head on advanced difficulty modes.
Visually, Chessmaster is less than stellar. Some of the menu graphics, which are composed of digitized imagery look great but the actual in-game environments are pretty bland and generic. There is a whole host of different color schemes and opponent picture personalities but at the end of the day you’re left with a visual experience that could have been easily achieved on the original Gameboy Color. It is easy to distinguish between the various pieces and you’re never left guessing what’s what but a bit more visual flair could have done a great deal to spruce up the visual presentation of the game. Audibly, Chessmaster more than gets the job done with aural representations for nearly every on-screen action. There is no soundtrack to speak of aside from a few quick ditties following the end of the game but the included sound effects do effectively enhance the overall enjoy ability of the game without getting too much in the way of the gameplay.
Quite simply, Chessmaster is a fully rounded chess title on the go that even newcomers to the game will find very useful thanks to the included tutorial mode that acclimates new players to the basic rules and strategies of the game. The replay ability of the game is enormous and the multiplayer component doesn’t require a separate game-pak, which is nice. Overall, I’d recommend a flat-out purchase for fans of the game of chess and at least a rental for everyone else.