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I have always quite enjoyed the idea of the Chessmaster series, its focus on learning to play Chess well rather than just offering gimmicky boards and sound effects sets it apart from a lot of Chess games. It is aimed at the newcomer but offer a lot the Chess player of any level. The DS version seems to be just about the perfect version of Chessmaster, offering the professional quality of instruction while being all the more accessible and portable. I took this with me on a long journey not long after buying it, by time my battery ran out seven hours in, I had actually significantly upped my game.
The core element of Chessmaster is its learning centre. This takes the form of a progression through increasingly difficult tutorials. The initial levels are very simple, first teaching you how each piece moves and then teaching you how to take your opponents pieces. Of course, there's a lot more to Chess than just knowing how to move your pieces. The tutorials then detail a range of basic openings, then leading strategies, using famous examples from historical chess games to provide some context. It keeps you well informed as to the effect different plays will have and tries to make you plan moves with a though to the game ahead. The learning tools are also pretty vast, the idea is that you do the early tutorials, play a few games, do the more advanced ones and then work through some easy games and then return to learning. You can work through at any pace but it works best if you work through the learning materials over a long period of time, learning new tricks as your skill increases. Chessmaster is a full Chess programme that plans on developing with you as a player. On the PC this is good but on the DS it's great, it's always there for a game or a lesson and will help anyone looking to begin with Chess or even take their game further.
It doesn't end there, however. Chessmaster on the DS offers a huge range of options for just playing and enjoy Chess. A huge range of opponents with a range of skill level are programmed into the system including, at the top end of the scale, a lot of supposedly famous chess players I haven't actually heard of (I'm more of an amateur chess hobbyist.) This allows you to pick a game at any skill level and have to computer play against you in a variety of styles, it's a good feature that offers a chance to pick out different tactics in your opponent and learn how to defend against them. Also included is an archive of historical games to check out, this can be quite interesting to the serious chess enthusiast but didn't do much for me.
Lastly, they have included some Chess minigames. These involve moving pieces around the board with different goals, finding mines with pawns and other novelties. I didn't much enjoy these and I felt they'd been tacked on as a bit of a dumbing down, as though your average DS fan wouldn't look at a chess game unless it has some silly games involved aswell.
After a bit of a comparison with Chessmaster 9000, the latest version of the software that I own for PC, it seems the DS version is a little cut down. The huge library of archived games, hints and tips and other bits and pieces is merely very big on the DS and there is the obvious graphical knock down, however I can honestly say the DS version is the superior product. For all its bells and whistles, the PC version cannot compete with a fully portable, touch screen controlled, full Chess packaged. The convenience really makes it more likely you'll pick up and play through a few tutorials and I found it immensely more accessible.
Obviously Chessmaster, like Chess, is not for everyone. If you have no interest in learning to play or playing chess then perhaps this isn't the game for you. However, it's perfect for anyone who has always wanted to learn chess but has found those dry, lengthy books to be too dull to get through. It's also perfect for the old chess player looking to get back into the game.
This DS Cartridge can be found for around £20 and will run in any DS console from any country in the world. However, beware of bootleg cartridge sellers dealing in DS games online, often these will be listed as foreign imports and state that it is incompatible with the DSi. All genuine DS cartridges are compatible with DS consoles from any region, including DSi.
Well, this is a good idea if you enjoy chess but don't have someone to play against regularly. But don't get too carried away... this isn't necessarily for beginners!
The actually chess function works on a rating system. You get points for winning, and lose points for losing. Now, I'm no expert, but I like to think my chess skills are at least average. Now, I manage to beat the first challenger, then my rating goes up. This means you play a slightly more skillful player. However, the leap in ability is not proportionate to your actually ability. Therefore, you lose the next and start at square one. Frustrating. But, for someone of more skill, it shouldn't be a problem.
The mini-games are good though. For example, one is where you move the pieces you're given into a position where they're next move can capture two or more of the same peices of fruit (strewn across the board) with a legal move. Or how about minesweeping. This is where you move pieces around the board to try and find mines. Hard to explain how it works though. Basically, the mini-games play on your knowledge of chess, and teaches you how the pieces move. It promotes forward planning, an important attribute when playing chess.
Overall, as a training aid, I'd say this is welll worth a buy. Just don't expect to beat the computer that often!