I’ve never been great at chess. Sure, I’ve been able to best friends in the occasional match and have long enjoyed playing low-level AI on rudimentary PC simulators, but I haven’t ever thought I knew all of the intricacies and intimate tricks seasoned players have long-past memorized.
When I saw that a game called Pure Chess was being released for the Vita (and PS3!), I was intrigued. A new downloadable game for the portable is currently something of a rare occurrence, and with the benefit of being both a timeless strategy game and a welcome new release, it stood out. After playing it, the interest never waned. With a comprehensive tournament system, challenging bonus puzzles, robust AI, all coupled with a training system that seems perfect for someone wanting to get into the game, this isn’t a hollow effort at a chess simulator.
One thing that immediately stands out about Pure Chess: the game has a lot of eccentricities. For all the features I mentioned above, it still feels somewhat bare-boned, though offers a generous amount of content. Ignoring that contradiction, it’s a phenomenal simulator with some small, though perpetuating, oddities.
I’m not going to waste review space going into the intricate rules of chess, but rest assured, Pure Chess will do a respectable job of easing new players into the game. The provided tutorials give explanation of the general rules with extreme scrutiny, and even delve into some of the more complex tactics that won’t make you a master, but will come in handy. The tutorials are completely playable, requiring you to actually do what it’s teaching you so there’s real clarification. Even if you’ve long perfected your chess strategy, I think it’s worth giving these a go; I learned several neat things Iwasn’t aware of that I found myself using from time to time.
The game play itself? Well, it’s chess, albeit spiced up. If you’ve played VooFoo Studios’ last title, Hustle Kings, you’ll not be surprised by the graphical prowess of this title: it’s stunning. Textures on the pieces and board, coupled with the environment, make for a fantastic-looking game on the go. The game allows you to exit mid-match (except during tournaments, unfortunately), and has a cool feature where the last several moves can be watched to ease you back in. The game itself controls perfectly via the touch screen, and the face buttons can be used to play, too; however, it’s so natural and fluid, there’s no reason not to use touch screen.
Out of the four rounds, you’ll probably spend a lot of time in tournament mode. You’ll get something kind of like a campaign, though far more simplistic: just three tournies with four matches each, with all four needed to be won consecutively before advancement. That’s it; the AI gains in difficulty as it progresses, but nothing else really changes.Expedition mode is just plain ol’ chess, with adjustable settings and the like– no different than the tournament rounds, really, just better for quick play. The AI is capable and comes with enough settings to satiate new players and experts alike. Bonus Games contain a number of puzzles that infuriated me, so I’m sure any chess buffs will appreciate them, and there’s more than enough puzzles to last for hours of extra entertainment (provided you’re not some sort of genius).
While these modes are rudimentary, they’re not lacking in fundamental implementation. The multiplayer, or “Play by Mail” feature, however, is kind of a bummer: instead of online multiplayer, you’ll only get to send moves via messages, and that gets pretty tedious. This also means you’re limited to your friends only, so don’t go looking for some chess prodigy reigning supreme online to dethrone. I was told by publisher Ripstone Studios that cross-platform play is nowhere to be found, because sending messages between the two platforms is not currently supported; just thinning the viability of multiplayer a little more.
Overall, the experience isn’t uncontrollably marred by the simplistic nature or lack of online multiplayer, though that is disappointing. You can still play your friends in person (via ad-hoc on the Vita or passing the PS3 controller, respectively), and, well… it’s chess. What more do you want? The game’s extras are more than welcome, the presentation is wonderful, and touch controls are implemented well. For the $7.99 it costs, you’re getting a fair amount of substance, and if you’re new to the game, an adequate teacher. Though it’s certainly not a system seller, it’s money well-spent on an enjoyable download if you’re at all interested in this age-old game.
I’m still not an expert at chess, I don’t think. After time spent with Pure Chess, though, I sure as hell feel like I know my way around the board a bit better.
- Playstation Store Update Week of May 29th 2012