Review: Silver Star Chess (WiiWare)

A silver star for a second rate Chess game.

As the world’s oldest game (except perhaps bowling...see the Bowling Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Missouri for a compelling argument that Bowling was invented by cavemen), Chess is the ultimate in public domain properties. Amazingly, Silver Star Chess is the first variant of the pastime on WiiWare and so wins the race to the easy cash in. But is it on par with Chess options on other platforms?

Chess is a game of strategy in which two opposing sides face off with identical forces of pieces each capable of eliminating an opponents piece by simply moving into its space on the board. The strategy comes in that each piece has a unique movement profile and each player may only move one piece per turn. It is the very definition of the ‘easy to learn but difficult to master’ goal to which every strategy game aspires.

And it is even easier to learn here on the Wii because when you select a unit, every possible movement location will be highlighted on the board for you. Therefore, you don’t even really need to know how to play, as the game will not allow you to make any illegal moves. This makes the game more accessible to new players and is the kind of feature one would expect in a computerized version of the game. Although the game sports numerous other basic features that can be turned on and off, there are a few big features we would have liked to see but are not present.

Firstly, there is no online option to play remotely against a friend or stranger. You can only play two player mode locally, which as a selling point makes little sense as for the price of this game you could buy a real chess board. So the only real point to the game, in our opinion, is to play against the computer or to play online. A lack of online play is common for Wiiware games, but such a feature should have been much easier for a turn based game like this and it now means that we will have to buy yet another Chess game when one with online play is inevitably offered in the future.

Secondly, although a computer opponent is provided, it only offers differing skill levels, not play styles. All you get are skill levels 1 through 5 but with names and faces. The designers did go the extra mile and give each of the five skill levels a name and portrait to go with them, but other Chess games dating back decades have offered myriad choices of computer opponents each with their own unique play style and the option to choose to play against one particular style or be surprised. Here, it’s just easy through hard and that makes for a lot less variety and kills any chance of this being a serious tool for learning advanced Chess skills.

As for the characters themselves, they are the usual anime fare that one would expect in a card battle game. We almost expected the computer opponents to shout their move orders at you and exclaim ‘take that!’ whenever they capture one of your pieces, but sadly they just mutely stare at you for the whole game, oblivious to how offensively stereotypical they all are.

For instance the level 1 skill level opponent is (naturally) a girl, and her strategy consists primarily of bringing her King out early and dancing it around in circles. Nice. And then there’s Cammy at level 3 who just got here from a game of strip chess. It’s not until level 4 and 5 (the highest skill levels) that the male characters are represented, starting with some big fat guy named Rayden who looks like he’s about to punch you in the mouth for the way you were looking at Cammy.

Lastly, there is no tutorial or trainer of any kind to teach you strategy or even basic opening moves. Such features come standard in typical Chess games and their absence here either means that the games designers expected you to already be familiar with advanced Chess theory. The omission of such a feature is made all the more puzzling by the sharp difficulty curve; the game’s skill level ramps up so quickly from level 1 to 2. For most unskilled chess players, 1 is the only level they will ever be able to play as 2 through 5 will all be far too difficult for them until they get some proper training.

One last issue that we really found annoying was the way the computer player captures pieces. There is no animation and so its move is instantaneous. This is great for hurrying the game along, but not so great if you don’t remember what piece of yours was there to be captured. All too often we found ourselves having to rewind the game back a turn just to see which of our pieces was captured, but this isn't an ideal solution as the computer player does not necessarily make the same move when you continue the game as it did before. Once again the game is assuming that we are either expert Chess players who memorize every piece’s location after every turn, or else we are purely casual players who don’t really care which of our pieces was taken.

Conclusion

Silver Star Chess offers a competent game of Chess with a variety of skill levels to keep you busy. It's too bare bones to be satisfying for serious players, however its skill level is a bit too high for newcomers and it lacks any training mode to help bring them up to speed. Offering no variety and serving as little more than a quick way to play a game of Chess against a computer opponent, Silver Star Chess should be viewed as nothing more than a place holder to give you your Chess fix until a better representation of the game comes along.