Chessmaster: The Art of Learning - NDS - Review
Chessmaster: The Art of Learning is not your average Nintendo DS game. It’s not some newfangled idea, nor is it geared at training your brain. But it does serve two purposes. First, the game is an effective learning tool for those who aren’t good at chess (I should know, I suck at it). Second, it contains six mini-games that aren’t just addictive – they actually improve your ability to play the game.
If this sounds like fun to you – and it likely does since you bothered to click on a review link for a chess game – The Art of Learning is the best way to learn how to play chess on your own. It also happens to be the best way to play the game without using real chess pieces.
Teach Me With Your Best Shot
I hate tutorials. I despise them so much that I would happily direct a public service announcement urging game developers across the world to never use them, especially in action/adventures where the only thing they have to tell us is that the X button on the PS2 controller is used to jump.
Having such disdain for the way developers teach us to play their products, I wasn’t 100% sold on Chessmaster’s concept. I was curious but fearful – what if it tells me the obvious? What if it announces that the little plastic doohickey I’m holding is called a stylus? How many windows would I break in this revelation!?!?
Thank goodness that at least one person on the Chessmaster development team knew that we knew what a stylus is used for. The game skips past the usual crap and dives straight into the rules of chess. Starting at the most basic level (the pieces, their movements, and so on) and later moving into more advanced territory (how to fork an opponent, etc.), Chessmaster clearly and carefully explains how to play the game.
Should you accidentally exit the tutorial prematurely, it’s very easy to get back to where you left off. Tap any of the categories – Intro, Chessboard, Pieces, Playing Chess/Basic Rules, and Advanced Tactics – and hit the right arrow icon to click through any of the steps you’ve already covered. Click the left arrow icon to revisit old steps.
Of course, words are meaningless without a graphical representation of what’s going on. That’s the whole point of buying a chess video game, right? Chessmaster’s visuals are some of the most basic you’ll see on the DS. But for this kind of a game, they work beautifully. Each piece is clearly defined, eliminating any chance for confusion. Better still, the board is enhanced with highlights that show every possible area your piece could move. Tap a piece to activate this feature, and click on one of the highlighted squares to move to that spot. Two small icons appear to confirm or deny the move – tap the checkmark to proceed or the X to cancel.
Once you’ve grasped the basics, don’t merely play the game to refine your skills. Enhance your abilities and have fun at the same time via Chessmaster’s mini-game collection. These aren’t the usual tap-until-you’re-brain-dead garbage that most developers call mini-games. They’re relevant stages that challenge you to overcome several difficult situations. With each mini-game achievement, players will have an easier time visualizing their moves in actual chess.
Fork My Fruit, the first mini-game, has the most ridiculous name I’ve ever heard (well, the most ridiculous since they added the “Lara Croft” prefix to Tomb Raider – that was just plain silly). But the game itself is really clever. Using any of the given pieces – king, queen, rook, etc. – you have to fork (attack) two fruit at the same time. The game explains and visualizes this task much more effectively than a review could, but the general idea is to eliminate the fruit from the board. It’s a somewhat familiar puzzle concept that’s made unique by using the rules of chess.
Another mini-game, Masterpiece, is a challenge to paint a picture (fill in the blanks) by making as few moves as possible. Breaking the Lines, the third mini-game, is a battle against the pawns. Knights are your only weapon, and you must use them to capture every pawn on the screen. Capturing other pieces will help you stay alive but it won’t help you finish the stage. In Chain Reaction, however, you don’t battle anyone. Your goal is to link three or more pieces by placing them within each other’s attack range.
Want to know how good you are with a pawn? Test yourself with Pawn Charge, a game where the only goal is to reach the eighth rank without being captured. Minefield Chess, on the other hand, will test your patience by forcing players to move around and destroy an enemy you can’t see.
If the abovementioned terminology has left you clueless, play through the tutorial. It will answer all of your questions.
Josh Waitzkin is really excited to be your teacher. Really!
A Moment of Mockery
In Chessmaster, the bottom screen is all game. The left part of the top screen is all text (during the tutorial). The right side of the top screen, however, makes a mockery out of video game presentations. There aren’t any voice-overs but the game still shows Josh Waitzkin (who is supposedly famous to those who follow pro chess, and a nobody to the rest of us) moving his lips, minus several frames of animation. He likes to gesture and scratch his head a lot, but it’s the same scratch and gesture animations every single time.
Review Scoring Details for Chessmaster: The Art of Learning
It’s almost funny to give a chess game a high score when the majority of its content is pre-made. But unlike the physical game of chess, and unlike the online freebies you can play against strangers, Chessmaster comes with a stellar tutorial and six great mini-games.
The chessboard looks great and all, but I gotta give the presentation a “0” out of 10. It’s so bad, even Bubsy 3D is laughing.
Ouch, my ears! My ears! Make this repetitive nonsense stop!
Easy to learn – impossible to master?
A clear and concise learning tool for one of the world’s greatest board games. The mini-game challenges are also quite clever.
Single-card play is available and perfect for airports and other locales where you want to kill time but don’t have the space for a physical chess board.
The presentation sucks, but games are ultimately about something more than that. They’re about the entertainment value, and if you’re a fan of chess or don’t yet know how to play, Chessmaster is great game to have on your DS.