Chess isn't the type of game you instantly think of when considering the Xbox. This is the system of Halo
. As Xbox broadens its reach, a few more niche games are finding their way onto the system. Ubisoft's Chessmaster
is the first chess game to hit Xbox, but even if there were as many chess games as there are first-person shooters, this would likely still be the very best available. A game that is packed with instructive material, deep AI levels, and equipped for online play, Chessmaster
is a chess geek's wet dream. But even if you are only a casual chess fan or just someone who is a curious bystander, Chessmaster
is a worthwhile pickup at just $20.
Chessmaster is accessible to all skill levels thanks to more than 100 unique AI players. This large range of skills allows for a variety of difficulties that can be enjoyed by beginners and grandmasters. More importantly, those who want to improve their chess game finally have a proper teaching tool. Why search for Bobby Fisher when you can become him?
I am not a master chess player. I'm good against others of my low skill level, but until Chessmaster, I had never understood the game. Not in the way that serious chess players understand the game. Thanks to multiple, involved and fully-voiced tutorials, I now understand the principle concepts of chess. I know the terminology, can think five steps in advance, and play with a purpose instead or wildly. Most importantly, I've thoroughly enjoyed the learning experience.
The tutorials do a fantastic job of teaching chess through trial and error. The tutorial and helpful text is often smart enough to feel like a real tutor and not just recorded dialogue. The only slight downsides is that some of the "hints" offered for solving problems are actually just restatements of your objective and not hints at all. Despite some minor frustrations, anyone who takes the time (several hours) to complete the tutorials will almost certainly become a better chess player.
Once you know how to play, there's a variety of options available. You can try out more than 60 pre-made tournaments or create one yourself. You can try a chess puzzle, where you attempt to solve a particularly challenging situation using your newfound chess knowledge. And yes, you can play online. The only drawback here is the overall lack of online competition. In five days, I found two people online. That's not too promising.
This is not Battlechess, so don't expect to see queens shooting lightning bolts at knights. However, there are some gimmicky board and chess piece options that come fully animated. This adds a bit of extra life, but it's difficult to distinguish certain pieces from one another in some of the set-ups. I also wish there were better camera options and color adjusting as, again, it's not always easy to see certain boards and pieces.
If Chessmaster has anywhere to improve, it's the presentation and overall visuals. This is a rather stripped down chess game. In one way, it helps preserve the simplicity of the board. But on Xbox, I wouldn't mind the option to see the players in a tournament environment. Or at least to have some cut-scenes rewarding a tournament victory or my progression as a player. Minor stuff, but something to perhaps shoot for in future iterations.
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