WiiWare | Digital Leisure | 1 Player / 2 Players (local multiplayer) / 2 Players (online versus) | Out Now | 500 Nintendo Points
22nd May 2010; By KnucklesSonic8
When you begin playing for the first time, you'll use one of your pre-made Mii's to create a profile for yourself under one of three open slots. The Main Menu is where you'll discover an assortment of modes. For starters, there's a robust 'Single Player' option, which consists of three main sections: Rated Game, Practice Mode, and Load Game. All of these will allow you to either begin or continue a game against the computer set to one of three difficulties: Novice, Intermediate or Advanced. Only by choosing the first option will your game actually count towards your ELO Rating. There's also a straight-forward local multiplayer component, an online mode, an option that makes use of WiiConnect24, as well as an area for setting configuration.
After ironing out all of the necessary settings, you'll be able to get a match going. Chess Challenge allows to you to play either in 2D or 3D, and while gameplay remains in tact, there are comments to be shared about both individually. When playing in 3D, you point your cursor and pick up a piece using the A Button. When you do, you can then move it ahead to one of the open spaces on the board. If you have the Display Mode option set to 'On', possible places to move will be highlighted in blue. For those outside North America who have played Wii Chess, motion controls will be a welcome change. You have complete control over the camera in the game simply by holding the B Button and dragging your cursor around the screen. You can get down fairly low, get behind your opponent's side of the board, or raise it to a higher view. When the CPU makes a move, a short animation will play showing you the action that was taken. If you don't like seeing pieces animate (e.g., knights jump over pawns in the air), you can always turn this off. Doing so, however, will require you to be even more alert to changes on the board.
Whether you only have a general familiarity or have advanced knowledge on how to play, the game enforces rules you'd come to expect from a standard game of Chess. When a capture has taken place successfully, a sound effect will play - what sounds like a symbal clash when it's your move, and a negative noise when its the CPU's. When this occurs, you'll also see the piece float across to the side of the table signifying they're out of play. Repeating moves in a row will cause the match to go into a draw on account of repetition. You can even execute some more advanced tactics such as 'castling'. When a dangerous move has been made, the words "Check" appear on-screen. Gameplay continues until either player reaches a Checkmate situation. I thought the 3D view was an interesting experiment, however it's more difficult to keep track of everything that's going on. It's rather easy for a person to neglect to take a piece into account when they're strategizing because of the way the camera shows the pieces. Moreover, you'll find yourself adjusting the camera rather frequently to view the action from multiple angles, which can be irritating for some players.
So in what ways does 2D view differ? Well, all the rules are still the same, it's just a different way to play (see: superior). It's much easier to keep your eyes fixed on everything that's going on when compared with the 3D view. At the same time, you can't view what pieces have been taken out of play which is a bit odd. But it's still a much better way to play. Whichever view you end up using to play the game, the computer is a great way to test your skills. Staying true to the name of the game, the CPU is very challenging, even when you set it to 'Novice' difficulty. When it moves onto the higher difficulties, prepare to be embarassed as he wastes little time in pummeling you. It should be mentioned, though, that sometimes the computer takes a while to think up a move. Whether this was done to build tension or to have some sort of realism, some may find themselves annoyed with this aspect of the game. All things considered, while the game is clearly not meant for beginners, it sure is a great experience for those who consider themselves to be good at Chess.
There lots of options that you can select to tailor your experience to the way you'd like. For example, the Game Clock can be set to three different settings. 'Conventional' allows you to limit play to a given number of minutes, 'Incremental' allows players to earn bonus time for their actions, and 'Unlimited' offers you gameplay with no time restrictions whatsoever, something that's not included in the DSiWare version. When playing Practice Mode, you have the ability to use a Hints feature simply by pressing the Minus button. Using it repeatedly will eventually lead you to stumping the computer and it's a good way for players to get an idea of the kinds of strategies you can use as you play.
At the same time, Chess Challenge! also seems to be lacking some features that most may have trouble contending with. For starters, there's no ability to go back and view the last move that your opponent made, which forces players to keep their eyes fixed on gameplay. I suppose this was done for a sense of realism when facing a real-life person competitively, but since most chess games include this option, you may find yourself disappointed. Even more disappointing is the inability to undo moves in Practice Mode. This is quite weird since the DSiWare version allows you to do this, so I'm not sure why this wasn't included here. As touched on earlier, there's no beginner-focused mode to give you lessons or even tips on advanced techniques, which I found rather surprising. Even these points shouldn't stop you from getting the game, it's still important to keep them in mind.
Digital Leisure hasn't exactly been known for their wonderful presentation focus, but the game doesn't look bad at all. For starters, the menu organization is quite nice as is the jazzy music chosen for this game. I was really pleased to see that the developers included multiple music tracks, a refreshing change especially when playing long offline/online matches. There are 5 different backgrounds in the game: Beach, Forest, Study, Museum and Park. Out of the 5, only the Study area looks nice in 3D, while the others feature blurry background images. When in 2D view, the background images look a lot better, with the Study area coming out on top again as my favourite in the selection. As you play, you'll hear background sound effects depending on the area you selected. Animal noises, ocean waves, and a crackling fireplace are just some of the noises you'll hear, and these help give the game a bit of ambience.
You also have the ability to choose from one of 5 materials for the chess pieces. There's Wood, Plastic, Gold, Metal and Marble. Each of these have a different appearances depending on the view you're using while you're playing. For example, Gold chess pieces look a bit unpleasant in 3D, but they look a lot nicer in 2D. Plastic pieces seem to have some glossy effects added to them, which is nice to see. Also, wooden chess pieces use two really nice shades - a light brown, and a nice burgundy colour. Using both of these in the 2D Study view looks very nice. When deciding on a background or chess piece material under 'Settings' menu, you don't have the ability to preview what it'll look like in the way you do in the DSiWare version. So it forces the player to experiment with different combinations on their own until they find the one they like the best.
In addition to local multiplayer, Chess Challenge includes two online-specific modes of play. The first makes use of WiiConnect24 to send mail messages between Wii Friends for long-distance battles. You can the ability to manage up to 5 WC24 matches at once. When choosing an opponent to play with, a screen will show up that will allow you to through your list of Wii Friends. Those who actuallly own the game will have their Mii's appear while everyone else will just appear as a silhouette. When you send a move to someone, a message will arrive on their Wii Message Board telling them that they're participating in a game. When they boot up the game for themselves and head into this mode, the 'Current Games' selection will have an icon beside it signifying that there's an update. It's great to see the developers use something like WiiConnect24 in such an expert manner, and it works really well in this scenario.
Finally, you also have the ability to face opponents worldwide in real-time matches via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Online incorporation is executed really well: once you connect (which went really fast for me) you can play unranked matches, Ranked matches, or view the Leaderboards to see how your ELO rank matches up against others. At the time of this review, over 500 people have connected online. While waiting for the servers to hook you up with someone to play with, you can practice using a small 2D board on the right of the screen. This gives you immediate feedback as you play against a rather difficult computer, and it's a lot better than just watching a blank screen. Going at the right time certainly helps, but in the event of legnthy wait times, the manual recommends that you return "at the top of the hour". I'm pretty confident that the community will pick up as the weeks go on. The amount of Chess fans along with the response towards Digital Leisure's other online game serve as a good indication of that.
Just like in Texas Hold'em Tournament, players have the ability to change their Mii's facial expressions during a game. Most will, however, long for something more than this. Perhaps using predetermined text messages (a la Mario Kart Wii) or, better yet, Wii Speak incorporation - that would've been brilliant. Mind you, small teams may not have the resources to do this but since Wii Speak is a tad underused, those that have it will surely express desire of wanting to use it here. Serving a 'Checkmate' online not only adds points to your ELO Rating, but it's also sure to boost up your confidence. At the same time, it can be awfully frustrating when you've worked your way up the charts only to have your rank go back to the bottom for a bad loss. The problem with not being able to view a person's last move carries over here, requiring players to stare intently at the screen. An even larger-scale issue, though, is the matter of disconnections. Imagine the frustration when you're clearly winning with only the King and a few pawn's remaining, and the person decides to leave. You don't get any consolation points, and are just left with emotions of anger. Perhaps the developers can look into fixing this on their servers?
Chess Challenge! should be an obvious choice for fans of the long-time board game. It's a rather robust package and, as far as I'm concerned, it's Digital Leisure's best WiiWare release to date. Beginners may not be able to get the most out of it, but longtime players will enjoy the challenging AI. Additionally, the ability to prove your skills online and even play long-distance battles via WiiConnect24 is a major incentive to give this a go. Although there are some complaints to be had, it's still a solid release that's worth the $5 asking price.
24/30 - Very Good
Gameplay 9/10 - Faithful re-creation of the classic game, loses points for missing certain features, motion controls
Presentation 7/10 - 2D View looks great under the right settings, 3D View is interesting but it has its issues, pretty good music
Enjoyment 4/5 - Challenging yet enjoyable for chess fans, beginners may feel out of place, beating the CPU or someone online is very fulfilling
Extra Content 5/5 - Multiple configurations to tailor your experience, WC24 incorporation, local and online multiplayer, solid purchase for the price
Equivalent to a score of 80% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)