Battle Chess (NES) review
"Only in recent years, we have seen a computer, Deep Blue, beat the greatest chess player on the planet in a tournament, proving without doubt that a well-programmed logical machine can match any human intellect, at least in the world of chess. Of course, Battle Chess, being a Nintendo game, does not feature quite the level of sophistication that was built into the Deep Blue supercomputer. Still, it is able to accommodate and utilize all the rules of the game, and for most players will at least b..."
Only in recent years, we have seen a computer, Deep Blue, beat the greatest chess player on the planet in a tournament, proving without doubt that a well-programmed logical machine can match any human intellect, at least in the world of chess. Of course, Battle Chess, being a Nintendo game, does not feature quite the level of sophistication that was built into the Deep Blue supercomputer. Still, it is able to accommodate and utilize all the rules of the game, and for most players will at least be a lively opponent. I’ve certainly played real people who were much worse.
The game assumes a basic understanding of chess; not only is there no presentation of the rules at all, but even the Novice difficulty level is strong enough to take apart most real beginners. However, like most chess AI Battle Chess plays a strong tactical game, on the small scale, but tends to struggle with broader elements of strategy. Thus, most players with experience will be able to win simply by playing a conservative game, even on the highest of the six difficulty levels. Looking back, it is nevertheless quite an impressive achievement considering the technology involved. Unfortunately, this strong point is made moot by the terrible, terrible mechanics of this game.
At the start of the game, with all the pieces facing each other across the board, it looks quite nice, with a fair amount of detail, and even though the board is filled with thirty-two pieces, it is easy to distinguish them all. Once you make your first move, however, your opinion will being to slide. As your king’s pawn slowly shuffles its way two spaces forward, you might being to wish you had gone with a little less conventional attack and opened with a knight move. Surely, you’ll think, a knight is a speedy, leaping creature, as evidenced by its ability to jump over other pieces.
Sadly, the knight is just as slow as every other piece. And it doesn’t actually jump over other pieces, either. Instead, other pieces, whether friend or foe, politely step out of the way of the waddling, armor-clad piece, whose horse has apparently died of boredom, for it is nowhere to be seen. Watch as the opposing queen daintily steps backward, allowing your onrushing knight to reach the king and slaughter him. Talk about marital infidelity!
The queen is probably the best of the movement animations, or at least the most amusing. As she walks toward the opposing end of the board you’ll witness her shaking that fine ass (the king didn’t marry her for her brains, that’s for sure). Other pieces, however, look ridiculous--witness the rook, miraculously turning from stone fortification to freakish earth-elemental with blocky fists and feet like something out of Final Fantasy VII. The game can be switched into a two-dimensional graphics mode, which is much plainer, but much quicker as well.
When a piece is captured, you can look forward to sitting through additional tedium. The board dissolves and we witness a close up of the two pieces of concern fighting it out. For every combination of attacker and defender--knight taking pawn, queen taking king, and so on--there is exactly one animation. Some of these try to be funny, some to be dramatic, while others take the best route and try to be short. Aside from the poorly rendered and repetitive graphics of these battles scenes, there are the fundamental problems that, first, we have no interactivity in these battles, and second, we are well aware of the guaranteed outcome. Essentially, you are going to be watching the same twenty-second cutscene every time one of your pawns captures one of his. Considering the limited graphical capabilities of the NES, you can understand that this is not much fun.
In the time it took you to read this review, you could probably have completed two to three--oh, let’s be generous, four--moves of Battle Chess. The prohibitively long and moronic animations will certainly dissuade you from completing more than a few whole matches, especially as a modern player, to whom far more advanced programs are freely available, without the annoying features of Battle Chess. Even in its own time, however, I surmise that the negative aspects of this game still overwhelmed the joys of its strong AI algorithm. Which is really too bad, because if the designers had simply lost the “Battle” and kept the chess, this game could have been quite good.
Community review by denouement (April 24, 2004)
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