reviews\ Sep 26, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Chessmaster 9000 - PC - Review

Some lesser chess programs have come and gone throughout the age of computer gaming, but Chessmaster remains the leader of the list. Chessmaster 9000 is as full of features as it's predecessors, and though doesn't offer anything (new) you'll be too amazed by, still delivers excellent gameplay and solid performance.

The last Chessmaster I actually owned was 6000. Before that, I lose track, but it wasn't nearly as complex as 6000. That benefits me in having this version, as I am not too jaded by the lack of changes to the title. While other game genres benefit from annual tweaking, chess is chess and there isn't a whole lot you can do to make it more..... chess. You can layer it with bells and whistles behind the scenes, but it still all comes down to black vs. white; in one of the oldest games known to man. So, why bother releasing a new version year after year? I think maybe only us chess-club graduates will appreciate the new enhancements. 

That being said, it is a great version of chess. I occasionally pick up a cheap version from other makers when I see them, but Chessmaster is secure in it's dominance. They are to Chess what Sierra/Hoyle is to card games on the PC. Chessmaster 9000 delivers all of the expected goodies: multiple boards, skill levels, tutoring, scenario play and tons of piece sets to choose from. In fact, you can spend a lot of time just finding a board setup you like. I tend to stick with the faithful, simple pieces that represent a "normal" setup... though did find the "dog" one and others quite amusing. You can play in a few modes as well: 2D, fixed and 3D boards. That helps as some people prefer different views. Again, these things are not new, though done very well-- as expected.

What is new? Josh Waitzkin talking to you and explaining moves, strategies, trains of thought and other jewels of inspiration. Who is Josh? Rent "Searching for Bobby Fisher". Josh was a American child prodigy player that is still playing today. A very nice guy and his teachings are a real treat. I sat glued to the monitor as he explained what was in his head as he played against Lunna in 1996. Telling me how the French play, and how he opted to try something not expected to be traditional when playing this opponent. Yes, it's geeky, but like I said-- these new tweaks are meant for us chess-club enthusiasts. 

There is a classroom. That doesn't need explaining, I hope. There is a Kid's Room, Tournament mode and amazingly large database (improved over the last version) to browse. You can see tons of games played by the best players in the world. More than you can imagine. An aficionado of the game will love this, but again, won't mean much to the casual player. 

The sounds are good, and there are many ways to vary the speed, voice, board action and etc to make the gameplay suit your needs. When the board is in play, it is surrounded with windows that makes me feel like I am using Photoshop. I prefer closing them all and just having the board-- as they distract me. But, if you need to see pieces taken, status (with clock) and etc... knock yourself out. They're all there by default. Closing them once will get rid of them for future games. I did not find a way to make the board full screen, however. The manual is in PDF format and I did not spend much time on it. I would have preferred to see a large, complete board with nothing else on screen, but never found that ability. 

The graphics were actually less than thrilling. I don't know what I expected, but there was a "roughness" to the board and pieces at times. It also depends on your selections. Some of the configurations were downright cheap-looking. There is a bit of flashing and jitter when you change pieces in the middle of a game. Not a problem, but odd, nonetheless.

The AI is very good, and the challenge is complete-- whether playing at novice level or Masters. It is fair, though not easy at all. I prefer to play against the better opponents, though do not win. I know that is crazy, but I learn so much more when losing to the Masters. The losses are sometimes HUGE, I might add. Still, rather than get upset, I start "new game" and go right back at it. I find this makes me a better player when I get the rare chance to play against humans.

Speaking of which, has their own "world" where you can connect and play against people all around the globe. While not near the numbers of a "Yahoo" online gaming community, I find the opponents more challenging and it's not as "clunky". Maybe I'm just a snob and prefer playing against people that use less four-letter language. You can create your own ranking when you setup the game, instead of having to earn your way up. If you're honest, that is a much better way than in the past. Being dishonest will do you no good, as you'll just lose or unfairly beat a novice, which is not satisfying at all (to decent people!). 

It would be nice if they took some time off from issuing new versions so often. Maybe they're afraid of losing dominance for this game in the PC market, but it seems they should take a break and release them less frequently, and with more new features at once. Like I said, when you strip away all of the fancy sounds, pieces and menu-clicking, it is CHESS. One of the greatest games ever created, and not in need of the latest and greatest like other genres. Chessmaster makes a chess game, and does it better than anyone else. While lacking in new luster, this version is no exception.  

Gameplay: 8
There is a lot to choose from to make the game comfortable for the player. The selection of pieces and colors can actually help the player focus and enhance the experience. Otherwise, it's chess. Period. 

Graphics: 7 
The graphics were actually less than stunning at times. Depending on the pieces and boards, it could look quite ugly and unimpressive. I stuck with the traditional looking pieces and found the graphics to be fine, however.

Sound: 8
The sounds were nice during gameplay, and they offer a wide array of tweaks to suit your needs. The voice of Josh Waitzkin was clear and very well done. Like having him in your living room.   

Difficulty: Hard
It's chess. It's hard, though the level-select can offer you some easy play if you need a break. 

Concept: 7 
The game of Kings is not new. Ubi's treatment of it is traditional. They have tried to offer features that one might need if playing serious chess. They looked into the mind of the non-casual player and asked what they'd like to see-- then tried to deliver; with some success.

You can play head-to-head online at ubi's own site. A nice option for those tired of the stacked and packed rooms on Yahoo. 

Overall: 8
Chessmaster 9000 is great, though isn't it always? I am not sure why they turn out new version so often. Perhaps insecurity. There are loads of features in this one. For newbies, there is teaching and great resources. For seasoned players, there are resources of a different kind. Having Josh walk you through his thought process was amazing for a player like myself. That was truly enriching. But, to many players, such things will be boring and useless. Listening to someone talk about playing chess ranks right up there with watching people catch fish on TV. Yes, I enjoy that, too! This is a great game on it's own, but if you have bought the title within the past couple of years, you're really not going to get anything that new or exciting. If, like me, it's been a few years between titles, you'll get a lot more out of it.


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