Academy: Chess Puzzles
DSiWare | Gamelion | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | 200 Nintendo Points
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9th October 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
Once you're past the very unwelcome, 30-second loading screen that precedes the Main Menu setup, one observation you'll make is how Academy: Chess Puzzles establishes a somewhat elitist vibe as a point of consistency. Contrasting this to a certain degree is the game's choice to not speak to the referenced educational component and instead keep things decidedly simple in terms of execution. If we were to compare the game to that of a campus, what you won't find here is a department that offers on-site assistance as a guidance office would, or even the presence of instructors or information design to lead one in the right direction. Thus catering more to an independent style of learning, it is expected that you're already very familiar with the rules of Chess and that the only desire you have is to prove your intelligence. Assuming that such intentions need not be supported by anything beyond a minimal design and visual scope, it can be said that the material in Academy: Chess Puzzles is more suited for an honours program than a beginner's course; although, it is visually more in tune with the latter approach.
The curriculum consists of two study units: Puzzle Mode and Quiz Mode. The first one serves as the focus of the package, with 750 puzzles in all to solve, evenly distributed across three difficulty settings. The goal with each template is to induce checkmate by making one, two, or three moves, depending on what's indicated. And that's pretty much all there is to it. Some of the two-step puzzles aren't that difficult and often have you using the same piece a second time to capture a piece that's decided to interject by jumping between you and the rival's King. Aside from that, the puzzles function properly, and the range of difficulty options makes it so that less experienced players aren't excluded from the fun. Moving, now, to the second option, Quiz Mode will pick and choose from the game's long list of puzzles and give you three lives as you try to complete as many as possible without making too many wrong moves. With two- and three-step puzzles, even if the first move you make is correct, you'll be forced to do a completely different puzzle altogether if successive moves are made in error. As this assortment is just chosen for you at random, there's no progression to be seen here. It's probably assumed that one would have such needs met by venturing into Puzzle Mode, and I don't expect a real-life quiz to have a completely systematic arrangement, but in this particular instance, I also don't think it's unreasonable to expect that there would be some logical difficulty adjustment.
Given the light nature of the package, it should come as no surprise that achievements have been included to try and reward players for their progress, but these basic and obvious conditions are such that they will be scoffed at. There are also four board themes to be unlocked, but the number of puzzles the game asks you to complete just to make these options available is a bit much for something so measly.
Whether for its no-frills focus, the repetition surrounding its choice of parlor-style music, or its generally plain approach, Academy: Chess Puzzles will be seen as a pretty boring execution to anyone outside the realm of existing Chess fans. And just in saying that, I do have to wonder what would catch your interest about the game in the first place when you probably already get your fill of chess-related brain teasers through other digital or paper-based outlets. It might be that pursuing this route might be less hassle for you in terms of having puzzles on the go, in which case the $2 price tag might be just what you're looking for. But even then, I'm very much inclined to repeatedly say "Can't you just..." like a broken record, just to emphasize that there are other alternatives available.
Academy: Chess Puzzles does exactly what it says, and that might be enough for some. But for others, it'll ultimately mean that there's no reason to look into this any further. It's not really something to graduate from in the completion sense, but in terms of the really limited fun factor, it is something you'll desire to pull away from and not wish to return to after a while. Recognize also that this game's appeal is similarly limited and you should have a pretty good indication of whether or not this is worth paying for.
17/30 - Okay/Average
Gameplay 7/10 - Functional with a small amount variety achieved through difficulty settings, makes certain expectations about the player in its focus
Presentation 6/10 - Very straightforward approach, plain visual design that may bore some, music is somewhat suitable but still repetitive
Enjoyment 2/5 - Not bad for what it is but the fun factor is really limited, some will long for more even with the good number of puzzles
Extra Content 2/5 - Two play options, over 700 puzzles, pointless achievements, price tag isn't unreasonable but some still won't have reason to invest
Equivalent to a score of 57% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System