(3DS eShop)

Pure Chess (3DS eShop)

Game Review

Pure Chess Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

En Passable

VooFoo Studios took on a tough challenge in not only producing cross-platform online chess multiplayer, but achieving it on both the Wii U and the 3DS. Pure Chess immediately earns credit right away, in that case, as a technical example of what can be achieved on what is relatively old tech with the 3DS. Bonus points are due, then, but drilling down into the full package produces mixed results on the portable, much like its HD console sibling.

It's apparent from early on that this download does at least put a strong foot forward in distinguishing itself from cheap or free alternatives available on various platforms. It exudes a degree of old-school class in its presentation, serving up a charming soundtrack of Classical, Jazz, Chill and Nature music. The audio experience is often sidelined or goes unmentioned in many games, but in the case of Pure Chess it does immediately establish the software as ideal for some relaxation — it's one for headphones.

Impressively, it also boasts the same core modes as its home console equivalent. Most importantly for single players new to the pastime there are some rather useful lessons in the Learn to Play section; these vary from basics that teach you how to control the cursor, to the move sets of different pieces and right the way up to more sophisticated areas such as piece valuation, learning to avoid stalemate and an insight into endgame strategy. While the lessons aren't substantial in terms of working through multiple scenarios in each area, they do establish core rules that should give beginners grounds to start in easy difficulty, or expand their knowledge through other sources.

Chess Challenges are another neat extra for single offline play, which includes 100 check mate puzzles to win matches in a limited number of moves; these can be decidedly tricky. There are also three tournaments in this area — Beginners, Challengers and Masters — that you should not only try to beat but do so as quickly as possible. It stores your most recent attempt's time to an online leaderboard, though annoyingly seems to lose your 'best' time in favour of tracking your current run. In our case we saw a mediocre time of 24 minutes in the Beginner's event — the best players have clocked around four minutes to win four games, amazingly — disappear from the leaderboard when we started a new attempt. As we messed up that second effort, we found our better time was gone forever; a minor quibble, but not the only such complaint.

Away from challenges we have the standard Play mode, in which up to six CPU or local player matches can be run at any time. The CPU options are solid, with ten difficulty levels from 'Monkey' to 'Grand Master', with plenty of challenge to be found even in the middle settings; we suspect even the very best players will find a solid challenge here. Local multiplayer is strictly pass and play, with no Download Play or Local Wireless supported; for chess that's absolutely fine. It's not a million miles away from sitting opposite an opponent at a chess board, in that respect, though this does lack the nifty GamePad table-top approach included in the Wii U version, simply due to practicalities.

As per the console version there are also three environments and three distinct chess sets from which to choose. While it's nice to have the same choices, the impact of that choice is severely blunted by technical shortcomings of the hardware — while each environment and set provide a different and beautiful backdrop on Wii U via a constantly rotating camera, the viewing angle is fixed on 3DS. The top screen is in 3D and shows rendered pieces moving, yes, but the isometric viewpoint makes the surrounding room borderline irrelevant, while the pieces themselves are less detailed as expected. Most attention is given to the conventional top-down view on the touch screen for play, yes, but the lack of flair on the top screen renders the additional DLC of sets and environments somewhat meaningless. Visually, there's little to excite 3DS players.

Rather like the Wii U iteration, problems also arise when playing online. The painful load times of launch week are marginally better a few weeks in, but it's still a rather ponderous experience when engaging with up to six online games. Getting into the online area and jumping into a match is passable in terms of time spent, but it's certainly not a snappy process.

Aside from some disappointing but manageable waiting times, the issues with online play are with design. It's clearly been designed with a "play by mail" approach, in a wistful world where playing with someone from the other side of the world will be a process over a number of days and weeks. While fine as an option, it's difficult and almost impossible to engage in a real-time match to be completed promptly, as no visual indicators are given as to whether the other player is even online. You may coincidentally make a move and find your opponent has countered within a few minutes, but a simple opportunity to see that a rival is online and for the match to move into a 'live' area would have made a vital difference to the experience.

There are other flaws, too, such as the option to invite a friend to the match but the software failing to even recognise which of those on your list even have the game. There can be technical hiccups — a welcome option to claim a win after a number of days without a returned move is nice, but in one case the game told us we could claim but didn't actually let us do so. Another example was when we 'resigned' from a match after a day despite doing no such thing in reality, and there can be occasions where the server fails to register your move, suggesting that the cross-platform infrastructure is, at times, creaking.

It's a flawed experience online, then, but it's not entirely beyond redemption. The benefit of matches across Wii U, 3DS, iOS and Android is that it's never a problem securing an opponent, and on many occasions you can avoid hiccups and — assuming you accept the aforementioned limitations of the "play by mail" style — have an enjoyable match. It's a pity that SpotPass isn't utilised to inform you of an opponent's move, but logging in once a day should allow steady progress in most matches; this perhaps suits the 3DS better than the Wii U, in a respect, while those with the free mobile version can receive notifications on their smartphone, even if the limit of one slot on the free option will then drive you to the 3DS once Wi-Fi access is available. Like much of the online experience it's workable, but doesn't fulfil its potential.


Pure Chess on the 3DS is a thoroughly competent piece of software, which in some respects stands out on the system's eShop. Classy touches such as the soundtrack and cross-platform play are to be commended, while the single player component is relatively substantial and provides solid value for money. The visual flair has been lost in translation from the Wii U, making the idea of buying attractive DLC sets somewhat moot, and the online experience is functional but falls below its potential, with a combination of design and infrastructure flaws difficult to ignore. Overall this is worth consideration for chess enthusiasts or those that like the idea of a dedicated app for the game on their 3DS; rather like this writer's in-match strategies, it has decent foundations but lacks the final touch in its endgame.

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User Comments (25)



unrandomsam said:

That is the thing the online in Mobialia Chess is brilliant. (And you can use the same servers with xboard/winboard and a load of others).

More importantly the servers have some strategies to deal with lag and cheating. It is also real time.



dAvecaster said:

Love the tag line for the review!
I might get this, I would like portable chess, it would round off my ds downloads nicely. Correspondence chess is fine by me. After all, there are plenty of free internet chess rooms for my real time chess needs.



WesCash said:

I agree with the review and score. It's a perfectly functional game with some nice touches. I very much like the soundtrack and chess challenges. As a single player experience, it's pretty good. The fixed isometric view on the top screen is disappointing and sometimes the bottom screen is "illuminated" in a way that makes it hard to discern white pieces on the white squares.

I haven't got around to trying out multiplayer.



cfgk24 said:

Er - is 3DS old tech? Its still up to date and there is no more advance hardware that replaces it so - I don't think it can be 'Old Tech' lol (sorry for being facetious Thomas! lol)



Windy said:

I really felt at the price point they were asking more Boards should have been included instead of some Priced DLC boards to download. That's why I skipped the game. But Mario Golf also will have DLC. 34.99 with DLC hmm my argument doesn't really work does it? I was excited about Mario Golf but will now pass on it because of the DLC. I'm really hating the new standard in this DLC garbage. I think its a matter of time before we see these outrageous DLC prices from Nintendo also. I'm talking about games where they have 199.00 packages to download extra content. Right now its pretty low in price. But for retail games at 34.99 or 39.99 I don't think it should be there at all. then there is this chess game with a decent price point to begin with. I still don't like the DLC



TrueWiiMaster said:

I'll wait for a sale. I have the Wii U game, and it's great, but would love a portable version if the price was right.



Gridatttack said:

@Windy I see your point on DLC, but I think we must remember in some cases DLC is extra content from the main game.
However, its not the same when the DLC is available from the beginning, since they should be included in the game instead. But DLC works as extra content from games that have been released for quite some time. (like FE:A)



memoryman3 said:

@cfgk24 The 3DS has a lower screen resolution and less RAM that 2009's iPhone 3GS, not even simple 2D games such as Swords and Soldiers and Rayman can run without severe lag!

It's the LOWEST END current gaming device you can buy.



AkinaChan said:

I have no real interest in this game, but I decided to give the review a look anyways :3 I was in a chess club for a short time in middle school, but switched to swimming club because I couldn't get into it ~_~; While online play sounds a bit fun, I agree with your review in that the game is missing that final touch that makes it look polished and worthwhile ( ´ ▽ ` )



dumedum said:

@memoryman3 that's bull. It has a nifty 3d screen, lots of physical buttons, huge games with lots of power. There's nothing low end about it compared to crappy iOS angry birds.



Squiggle55 said:

I love chess and this classic game is absolutely screaming to give it the proper live multiplayer on consoles it deserves. What is the deal, voofoo?



ThomasBW84 said:

@cfgk24 I don't mean it to insult the system, in fact it's my favourite on the market right now; if I had to choose just one console the 3DS would win at the moment. The point I was making is that, even at launch, there were elements of it behind smart devices, and it's less technically capable than Vita. For playing games, however, I'd argue the 3DS is the best portable system available.

So it's graphical processor etc may be ageing, but thankfully there are plenty of games where that doesn't matter much. It's that Nintendo thing of the experience being more important than raw power.

Its tech is perhaps relevant for Pure Chess because the online is still slow (slower than on Android or Wii U) and the viewing angle is fixed. Perhaps they could have been dealt with better by the devs.



ThomasBW84 said:

@shigulicious I think there's a forum thread of keen chess players too

I'm logging in once a day at the moment, so once I have a free slot I'll invite you to a game!

Update: I had an opponent bail on me, so I've sent you an invite.



DadOfFour1972 said:

@Windy so you'll pass over a game you were excited about because you don't like the fact there is some extra content going to be available that is, at the end of the day, completely optional?? I don't understand that view point at all - unless there is some evidence that the full game is short on content to accommodate the DLC.
Don't get me wrong I'm not a huge fan but extra courses seem like the perfect DLC to me. That's me anyway



Chris720 said:

Meh, I can just play Chess.com on my phone via their app. It looks a lot nicer, play online or via the computer and it even has lessons to teach you basic or advanced move sets. This holds no interest for me.



Noboty said:

Was excited for it. Now, no longer. Bullet dodged. Maybe, I'll take another look if it goes on sale for at least 50% off, but until then, off the radar with it.



MC808 said:

@memoryman3 You're comparing a dedicated portable game system that has actual CONTROLS, to a freakin' phone?
Calling an iPhone a gaming device is just absurd to me. Even having this conversation is absurd, actuallly.

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