Virtual Chess 64
Chess. You either get it or you don't. At least up until now.Virtual Chess 64 looks to cater to chess players varying from beginner all the way to expert. I will be up front and say that I have always been one of those people who did not understand the game or have the patience to learn all the rules. This made me an ideal candidate for the Titus Fox and his tutorials. How did they work? Am I now a master chess player? Read on and you shall see.
Virtual Chess 64 caters to players of any skill level, with 14 different levels of difficulty that range from beginner to chess pro. For those of you like me, the game features "Artificial Stupidity" to help you beat the computer and learn the game. There are tons of lessons on everything from the board to strategies and the game can be played on a flat 2D board or a 3D board with animations. This could be a chess player's dream game.
Like I said above, I have never learned how to play chess. It is not that I don't have the mental capacity to learn, I just have never had the time, or desire for that matter. When Virtual Chess 64 landed on my desk, I decided that I would use the opportunity to learn the game. Seeing as how the game was boasting about the number of tutorials that were available, I figured what the heck, you are not going to get anybody with much less knowledge of how to play the game, so let's see how good those tutorials really are.
Normally, I give a description of the game I am reviewing and a brief summary of the object and such. I am not even going to try to do this for chess. All I will say is that chess is a complicated board game that has been around for years and years. It takes more thinking that most people are used to doing, because every move you make will affect your game at some point. The bottom line is this: if you have never played chess before, the tutorials will help you out. If you don't think you have the mental energy or desire to play a game that requires more than just an itchy trigger finger, you probably would not like the game of chess. I am just talking about the game of chess, period, not Virtual Chess 64. If you don't think you would like the game of chess, obviously you will not like Virtual Chess 64.
Okay, since I had no idea how to play this game, the first thing I did was head straight to the tutorials. I decided that I would be a great test subject to see if the tutorials were clear enough to teach somebody how to play chess, or if they were going to be too complicated. Let me say right off that the tutorials did an excellent job of teaching the basics of the game. The first set of tutorials is based on the board itself, giving a rundown on the positions, terminology and concepts of the chess board. After I completed this, I moved on to the sections about the chessmen. This is where I was introduced to the different pieces in the game and what they are capable of doing. I recommend going through this one a couple of times because trying to remember which piece can move which direction was probably the hardest part for me. Anyway, after I learned the different pieces, I moved on to the rules of chess. This taught me what I could and could not do and what the main objectives were. After I made it through this tutorial, I was ready to go play a game and get my butt kicked by the computer, even on the beginning level. After I got killed, I went back into the tutorials and took some lessons on tactics and strategy. Everything you need to know about chess is here.
So all the different tutorials and lessons are here, but the question is, are they helpful? The answer is a resounding yes. After watching all these lessons, I was able to start playing the game. Now, I will be the first to warn you that just because you understand the game does not mean you will be any good at it. What I am saying is that I understood what to do, but I just really was not good at it. Anyway, back to the tutorials. They were very detailed and quite easy to follow. My only real complaint about them was that they were almost too detailed. Well, "detailed" might not be the right word. The problem is that the tutorial beats some concepts to death. I mean, after it has already made the point, it will keep showing you the same thing again and again. I guess it is better to be thorough, but I just got a little tired of it.
After I finished the lessons, I decided to head out and try my hand at my newfound chess playing abilities. After watching those tutorials, I knew that this game would be a cinch. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. After playing the first game, I filed that loss under learning experience. After losing the second game, I filed that loss under getting better. After the third loss, I started to think that I was getting better. Thanks to what Titus calls "Artificial Stupidity," I was finally able to win a game. This Artificial Stupidity actually has the computer make stupid moves, just so you can capitalize and stay in the game. Now this is only on the beginner levels, so all of you pros out there do not need to worry. For us beginners, though, this was great. It helped teach me what to do and what not to do. Also, the games were always competitive for me and if I started to get cocky and think that I was good, I would up the skill level by one until I would not be able to win any longer. I really thought the skill levels were done perfectly to match level of experience. Now, I can't speak for the upper levels of the game because I am not very good, so I don't know how it will react to a person with lots of chess experience. The box does say that Virtual Chess won the '96 and '97 World Microcomputer Chess Championship and the '95 Harvard Cup, so I can only assume that advanced players will have their hands full.
The game does have multiplayer capabilities, which will let you play one-on-one against a friend, or you can play four players. Obviously in the multi-player modes, your competition level is based on whom you play. I found that playing against another human player was great if they matched your skill level, but really sucked if they were better than you (what can I say, I am a poor loser). Actually, it is worthwhile to play against good players, because they can help you with the strategies and theories if you are having a problem. Learning from the tutorials was great, but nothing beats the help you will get from a real person during an actual game.
This is a chess game, so graphics really are not that important. I will say that I had some mixed feelings about them, though. You can play this game in either a flat 2D mode or a nice-looking 3D mode. Let me address the 2D mode first. I found that this mode was easier for me to keep track of where all of the pieces were located, but I also had a tough time distinguishing which piece was which at times. The 3D mode looked really nice and I was always able to tell what was what, but I frequently had to rotate the board because the pieces would block the view of the other pieces. It was sometimes difficult to tell what piece was where. Also in the 3D mode, you have the option of getting a little animation every time you capture a piece. Theses animations were nicely done and looked great, but after a few games you will turn them off.
This game is a great way to learn chess. If you have ever wanted to learn the game but have not had the patience, now is your chance. The skill levels are done well and for a beginner like myself, the Artificial Stupidity kept me in almost every match. The game of chess takes a lot of mental work so if you don't like to think when you play video games, you will not enjoy this game. I can't say that I am an expert at chess but I can say that thanks to this game, I at least understand all of the rules and concepts now. This game does not really take advantage of the N64's power but hey, it's chess. It really doesn't need to.
Virtual Chess 64 DownloadsVirtual Chess 64 download
It's a chess game. It's pretty good as a brain-bending pastime, but ultimately, animated pieces aside, it's still a chess game.
At long last, chess makes its way onto the N64. Should it have bothered?
Chess is a great game. Millions of children throughout history have been forced to sit down at the familiar chequered board and puzzle over the mystery of "why can the horsey jump while the other pieces can't?" The game was also in the news fairly recently when supercomputer Deep Blue Mk II frustrated Grandmaster Gary Kasparov so much by defeating him that he stormed out of the room in a huff. After playing Virtual Chess 64, players may well have some idea of how the stormy Russian felt, as the Al in this game is extremely good - some might even say too good!
You are offered a choice of two playing modes 3-D or 2-D. In 3-D mode, you also have the option of switching 'fighting' on or off. Anyone who's played the ancient video game Battlechess will know what this option means. For those who haven't, it's where the pieces come to life and beat each other up every time one of them is captured.
In the aforementioned Battlechess, all the action took place on the board, but in Virtual Chess the two combative characters slug it out in what is basically a cutscene. While some of these scenes are amusing, at least at first, they soon become pretty tiresome and only serve to distract from the gameplay, meaning you inevitably turn them off.
The 3-D mode itself looks very nice, but the angle of the board makes it difficult to plan your strategies properly. You can view from two default positions, black side or white side, and can also rotate the board. However, the controls stay fixed when you rotate, making moving the cursor confusing from most angles. Inevitably you'll find yourself switching to 2-D mode, which is simple but clear.
The best feature of Virtual Chess, and really the only reason to buy the game, is the Tutorial mode. It starts from the absolute basics, introducing each of the pieces and explaining how they move. There's then the option to learn about all the different rules involved in the game, including the more confusing ones like the en-passant rule and castling. After this it's on to classic tactics, and there is also a selection of games from past history that you can review to learn the tactics of the masters.
This tutorial section is well implemented - after explaining each move or technique with illustrations, it then tests you with a few sample situations, for example, 'white to play, mate in two, find the moves'. This is easily the most comprehensive tutorial ever seen in a chess video game, and is ideal for both beginners or for those with more experience of the game.
Better Than The Heal Thing?
Sadly, the game itself is fairly middle of the road. One of the fun things about chess is sitting down with a friend and physically moving your pieces around the board to crush their feeble strategies. Doing it on screen takes a lot of the fun out of it, and when you consider that a chess set is a fraction of the price of this game - hell, you could even get a chessboard with built-in computer for the same money - you tend to think, is it worth it?
Virtual Chess 64 is a good chess game, but it's not particularly exciting, and whether it'll appeal to the N64 Banjo-Kazooie and Goldeneye cadre is doubtful. If you're a parent and you're trying to get your kids interested in something other than colourful, noisy, mindless fun, then this game might be worth a look. Don't blame us when they trade it in for something more exciting, though!
2nd rating opinion
The 3-D views may be fancy, but you inevitably turn them off to use the less confusing 2-0 one. Most importantly, the CPU opponent offers a real challenge (even if Roy didn't!) while the tutorial mode and classic matches are a bonus. Worth checking out.