Chess Challenge! (DSiWare)

Game Review

Chess Challenge! Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Zach Kaplan

Chuck, mate

Chess is over two thousand years old and still hasn't gone out of style. It's arguably the perfect game of strategy, enjoyed the world over by countless bright adults, reflective retirees and nerdy youths. Just about every city has a hub, a certain coffee shop or public park, at which one can go to watch two competitors going at it, the tension mounting with each second during which they contemplate their next move. One can only wonder what intricate strategies play out in such minds, how many unimaginable blueprints their unfathomable geniuses generate with every second.

No one, of course, would think the same of a computerized opponent as it runs down its mathematical strategy. Yet Chess Challenge! (at least in its intermediate and expert difficulty levels) forces players to wait as it "puzzles out" its next play. What's more likely, of course, is that the game is simply programmed to pause for a variable amount of time between each move. This sometimes interminable interval is in turns frustrating or boring enough to severely diminish any fun that might be otherwise garnered from the game.

Why, one might ask, does this waiting period exist? Is it to create the illusion of a thoughtful human opponent? More likely, we suspect that it's to balance the game's clock function. Instead of just measuring one's speed, Chess Challenge! forces upon its players a countdown timer. That's right – once time's up, it's game over, and whoever's ahead at that moment is the victor. Just imagine, for example, the tension rising as you and a friend face off, locked in a desperate struggle of wits, and... whoops! Time's up! Oh well! Luckily, one can increase the clock's limit until it's no longer a factor, but it would be so much faster to just turn it off with the press of a button instead of click click clicking ad infinitum. Also included is an incremental variation, which rewards players with extra time for each move.

The only way to turn the time limit off is by switching to practice mode. This means that its outcome will not affect your statistics, the inclusion of which is one of the game's redemptive factors. (It's also only available in single player mode, so the ticker's a requirement against other humans. Bizarre.) Games won, lost, and drawn are recorded as well as one's Elo rating, the result of an equation calculated to determine one's skill. It's neat that it's there, but one will have to play a great many games before noting a difference in the count. One can also save their progress in four different matches at a time and come back later if they so desire.

Novice mode, on the other hand, is a little bit harder than it ought to be. This turns out to actually be a blessing, as the lack of wait time between the computer's moves make it just about the only playable part of Chess Challenge! It provides a bit of difficulty, though it's not enough to give more advanced players anything to worry about. Intermediate and expert modes are about as hard as they ought to be, though the hardest test will be to your patience. This leaves two-player mode (either on the same DSi or via a wireless connection), which is quite self-explanatory, though one can only play on an individual profile rather than pitting two profiles against each other and affecting the statistics of both. This limitation just feels like a missed opportunity.

The presentation is quite basic. The music is jazzy and quiet... weirdly quiet... just another odd aspect of this title. Visually it's nothing out of the ordinary: one selects a goofy avatar at the start, every menu is an inoffensive combination of blue and brown, and five generic boards and six piece color schemes are available for the choosing.

There is one vital point, however, at which the graphics strike a blow to the gameplay, and to such an integral area that no match escapes it unscathed: the queen and the bishop are almost identical. It's more work than it's worth to keep track of both and far too easy to confuse the two, resulting in a vast potential for misjudgment and annoyance. It's enough to really ruin a match and eviscerate any remaining chance of a recommendation.


Why put yourself through the frustration of a forced timer, a computer that takes too long to compute and bishops and queens that are practically indistinguishable from one another? Even taking a real chess board on the train with you would cause less frustration than waiting for the CPU to make up its mind or bringing a friend along for the adventure of repeatedly figuring out which piece is which. If you're an extremely novice player, the corresponding mode is somewhat worthwhile, but more than likely you're better off saving your cash.

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User Comments (23)



KnucklesSonic8 said:

So friends you play with IRL are expected to make plays instantly?

Plus, the CPU doesn't always take a while.One game I played, he acted instantly after each of my moves. Just a thought.



Zach said:

@KnucklesSonic8 Novice mode acts quickly, and though a slight pause would be ok in the other two difficulty settings, man! This computer takes ages!

Thanks for reading!



pixelman said:

It's a bit different waiting for another human to make his play than waiting on a computer.



Raylax said:

Wow those avatars are ugly. I hope they didn't pay someone to draw those



Zach said:

@DarkEdi WiiWare has better multiplayer and it's easier to tell the pieces apart, not to mention the concept of a portable chess game vs. one that you have to sit down and play on your television set. The WiiWare version also doesn't have such ridiculous avatars.



ramstrong said:

Regarding the waiting period: Sometimes there isn't one. I've played a game where the whole game has no waiting period. OTOH, the moves I was making were unnatural moves only idiots would make. So, it seems to me, that the chess program is geared toward novices. Expert play will leave the computer dumbfounded and will have to calculate. Also, the wait is simply that the computer has no opening book! Not that I can tell, anyway.

I've never found a 10 minutes game too long to play. So maybe just unfulfilled instant gratification mode of the reviewer? Also, Novice mode a challenge? I just checked it again. It makes blunder left and right. What a joke. Then again, even the hardest mode isn't too good. I'm guessing 1200 level or below. I'm surprised that the ELO rating starts from zero. Usually, provisional rating starts around 1400. I noticed it increased immediately when I start winning games. Can it be that the reviewer was losing a lot of games in the beginning?

Agree about lack of good graphic. The bishop graphic problem did annoy me. I solved it by doing semi-blindfold chess where I remember where the bishops are. I guess not many people can do that.

Chessmaster DS doesn't play too good, but it still plays much better than this one. Also, on chessmaster, one can download play so 2 player games can be done with just 1 copy. Not on this chess challenge, and there's no reason for it, other than bad design.

Bad chess engine, rather unpolished presentation, and lack-luster options means that unless you absolutely must have a chess program at all time in your DSi (like, uh, me), then you're better off getting that old Chessmaster DS Art of Learning w/ Josh Waitzkin.

@zkaplan: "What's more likely, of course, is that the game is simply programmed to pause for a variable amount of time between each move."

LOL. Sorry, but I have yet to see a chess program that is programmed to do nothing. Most likely, this is a very simplistic chess engine that does not have opening book, hash table, persistent memory, or even good evaluation function. The pruning seems to be rather aggresive, perhaps to accomodate novice players AND make the program calculate FASTER.



noxusprime06 said:

why waste 500 points on this crappy game when absolute chess is only 200 points? there both chess not much of a difference except points value

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