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Chessmaster (PlayStation 2) artwork

Chessmaster (PlayStation 2) review

"As a reviewer, I think the highest praise I can get is to hear someone tell me that, because they read my review, they feel compelled to go out and buy the game. There抯 just something about having that sort of influence, that ability to impact someone else抯 perspective卲riceless. Makes me feel like I抦 doing something right. "

As a reviewer, I think the highest praise I can get is to hear someone tell me that, because they read my review, they feel compelled to go out and buy the game. There抯 just something about having that sort of influence, that ability to impact someone else抯 perspective卲riceless. Makes me feel like I抦 doing something right.

But as much as I抎 love to write a review on this game that moves the soul and could make anyone want to get up, run to store, and get a copy, I can抰. Truth is, if you hate chess and you play Chessmaster, you抣l just wind up hating it even more.

No exploding chess pieces. No story mode with a spikey-haired kid named Ryuji Kobayashi trying to become the greatest chess player in the world and thwart the evil Chessmaster抯 insidious plans. No hidden boards or oddly-colored animal mascots or special little minigames with four-player tag-teams matches.

Chessmaster is about chess. Just chess. Nothing but chess. That抯 it; that抯 all that Chessmaster has. Chess. No checkers. Chess. Thirty-two pieces. Sixty-four squares. One-on-one. Chess.

We clear on that? Understood? Okay.

Now, that being said協or what it is, what it does, and what it tries to do匔hessmaster is perfect.

Yes, perfect. I claim that Chessmaster is more solid than Metal Gear. More complete than any Silver Star Story. Why? Simple. Chessmaster is a game that doesn抰 just do what it抯 supposed to do, it goes beyond the call of duty, far beyond.

If it were an RPG, it would be a massive 100-hour quest with hundreds of characters, sidequests, an engrossing plot and online play.

If it were a fighting game, it would have a fighting system to rival Virtua Fighter, a control scheme to match Soul Caliber, and enough action to even shame out Marvel vs. Capcom.

Look high and look low; you won抰 find a game that does what Chessmaster does better than Chessmaster can do it.

You see, Chessmaster strives to give you the full chess experience, even from minute one. It starts you off simple enough; has you take a name and gives you a rank, sets you up just like the real life leagues. Depending on how many matches you lose or draw or win, the rank moves around, rockets or plummets in kind.

At first thought, you抎 probably think the rank is meaningless. After all, how many opponents could they stick in the game; maybe what? Twenty, thirty?

Try one hundred and fifty seven. 157. 157.

At second thought, you抎 probably think that number is just as meaningless as the rank. So there are 157 different opponents, so what? They抣l probably all play the same; maybe get a little more challenging the higher you go, but still卻ame. Just faces.

Once again, wrong. Each opponent is Chessmaster has a biography, a short little history that gives them enough personality to be interesting but not overbearing. And you抮e given the full range, too; put up against opponents of all skills and strategies, perfect for honing your abilities.

You want to improve your center game, need an opponent that抣l put up a good fight but still give you some room to fight down the middle? Take on Miranda. Need some practice defending against your foe抯 queen? Go a round against Josh; he抣l bring out the trump piece as soon as he gets the space for it. Each player has their own weaknesses and strengths for you to play against and learn from, rounding you out and smoothing those strategic rough spots.

That is, until you get to the greats. Chessmaster doesn抰 just settle at giving you a wide range of opponents to deal with, it puts you up against some of the greatest tactical minds in this or any other time, playing styles modeled after the best. The lighting-fast yet finessed moves of Alekhine. The relentless logic of Botvinnik. The chaotic force of Tal. And, of course, the Chessmaster himself, a peerless opponent without error or equal.

But as nice as all that is, you might want learn from the greats in a way that doesn抰 involve them kicking your ass. But how would one go about that? Make the computer fight the computer and watch the outcome? Not an option. Not needed.

Chessmaster has 825 games on record.

Games dating back all the way to the 17th century, some of the first games ever recorded. Landmark matches, bouts that took everything that came before and changed everything that came after. Even Kasparov vs. Deep Blue, one of the most momentous (and, actually, rather sad) matches of our age, all laid out for you to watch at your leisure, play-by-play. The game explains the setup and the situation for each game, tells you the strategies to look out for and the moves to note. Devilish detail.

Now, let抯 say you really have no clue about any of the names I抳e mentioned above; when you hear the words 慏eep Blue, you start thinking about sharks and LL Cool J. Let抯 say you抮e more of a novice to the game; casual at best, clueless at worst. Let抯 say you抮e prepubescent with the pawns, klutzy with the queen, and a rookie with the rooks. Let抯 say you like chess, but you don抰 like losing, and losing is what you most often find yourself doing.

Let抯 say you抮e like me when I first got Chessmaster.

You might take a look at this game and think it抯 just for the pros, that there抯 nowhere for a starter to start and a beginner to begin. You might try to go up against a few opponents, maybe defeat a few, but find that you get stomped with just about anyone ranked in triple digits. You might want to give it up, just toss Chessmaster to the farthest corner of your room, let the roaches have their way with it. Or you might want to try Pandolfini抯 Chess School.

From learning things as simple as each piece抯 power to mastering the openings of the greats, the Chess School has everything you could ever need to perfect the art and much more besides. There抯 no aspect of the game it doesn抰 familiarize you with, no maneuvers it doesn抰 give; teaching you both stratagems and strategy. If you don抰 know a pawn from a queen, it can help you. If you抳e been playing chess since you were old enough to pick up the pieces, it can still help you. Doesn抰 matter the size, doesn抰 matter the age, doesn抰 matter the skill, there抯 always something to learn, and Chessmaster can teach it to you.

When you finally get to the point where you can take to the checkered board with ease, play is always a simple affair; Chessmaster puts an accent on 憉ser-friendly. Moving the pieces is just a matter of buttons taps, painless in and out. Highlight the piece, press X, highlight the space you want to move it to, and with just another press of the X button your turn is over and your opponent can get back to mulling over your demise. You can choose from a fair cache of different boards with different pieces, too; a whole variety of themes for any occasion you抎 care to name and even a few you wouldn抰. Granted, changing pieces is bound to sow some confusion, and confusion costs matches. But that抯 the risk, and it抯 a risk that can be avoided by the simple act of not taking it.

As nice as all the boards are, they抮e still chess at the core; lifeless pieces being moved across a field, a small-time portrait of real-time battle. But what if you want to expand that portrait? Have the sense and subtleties of chess imprinted with the violence and carnage of wartime?

That抯 the aim of the Chess Battlefield, a virtual arena where knights and orcs face off on the checkered field. Select your side, select your enemy, select your environment and go at it. Axes swing, swords crack, spears fly and the body count rises; giving the battle a flair normal play couldn抰 have. You fight against a different set of opponents than in the main game, but just because your enemies have gone from the plastic to the fantastic doesn抰 mean they抳e eased up. Those stupid slobbering orcs? Yeah, they put up just as much a fight as the normal foes, guaranteed to give you a challenge and put you in checkmate the minute you start underestimating. It抯 just an add-on in the end, something to spice things up and add some points to the replay value. Still卆ppreciated, a nice touch. When you have friends over, friends who wouldn抰 mind spending time swapping pieces, this is what they抣l want to play.

Over everything you do, there抯 always some music playing; upbeat beats for the options menu, gentle strums on the piano for the normal play, thunderous war drums while you storm the Chess Battlefield. It may all seem so insignificant, so mundane, so routine卆nd it is. That抯 the entire point. It all just seeps into your mind; there, but not there. No distractions, nothing to take your mind off the opponents; letting you play a game where the only flaws present are your own. Everything in Chessmaster is focused towards giving you the edge, making you play the best game you could possibly play, and the music is no exception.

Chessmaster is like chess itself; thought out, insightful, ever so complex yet ever so simple. Every aspect of it is centered; an unfocused work that never loses sight of its goal and always stays to the target. Solid at all angles. I lack the imagination to think of anything more you could ask from it; there抯 just no level higher than what it抯 at.

If you抮e a beginner, you抣l go over the in-depth tutorial, master the nuances and learn to play with an ability that can even make more seasoned opponents take warning.

If you抮e a casual player, you can have a guaranteed challenge whenever the mood swings you, an enemy that抯 always on call and always ready to push your limits.

If you抮e a master, you can match skills with the pioneers of the game, hone your talents and further learn why chess is both art and science; the true poetic chemistry.

You can get Chessmaster for around ten dollars, a mere fifth the price you could wind up paying for many lesser games. If you抮e a long-time fan of the game, a player of whim, or even if you抳e just played chess once and said 慼ey, that was kinda fun, there is absolutely no reason Chessmaster shouldn抰 be on your shelf. Period.

Your move.

lasthero's avatar
Featured community review by lasthero (August 19, 2005)

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