I think it speaks to the limitations of the
medium that video games can’t replicate the feeling of a centuries-old game played
not with buttons or motion or big plastic dance pads…but with 32 tiny wooden figures.
Chess is a game that’s so perfect in its pure, original form, it transcends technology. So how do you make a good chess video game
and why? Released to the PlayStation Network and promoted
as the service’s first chess game, Pure Chess addresses both questions. The good news
is that it answers the first quite well, but when it comes to the second…it finds itself
in checkmate. Pure Chess is exactly what the title implies.
This is a pure game of chess…no frills, no gimmicks. And when you’re playing alone,
it’s also a fantastic game of chess. You have tournaments to play against surprisingly
smart AI opponents, as well as the single game mode and some fantastic chess challenges…which
ask you to fulfill objectives within a certain amount of moves or circumstances. And that’s where Pure Chess shines…in
that offline, living room setting. The game includes a really in-depth chess tutorial,
which actually teaches you some legitimate chess, and from there, you have this perpetual
amount of simulated opponents with which to battle wits. The game also includes local
multiplayer, and as it has been for centuries, playing with a friend is obviously the highlight
of chess. The game also controls well, it looks good…so
Pure Chess has the “how” part down. But you know, a chess video game has one advantage
over the real thing, and that’s the ability to play with a friend hundreds of miles away—the
ability to play online. Unfortunately, Pure Chess doesn’t use that
advantage…to its advantage. You can compete online, in a technical sense, but it’s not
actually real-time multiplayer. You actually “play by mail,” which is kind of like
messenger pigeon chess…only online. By messages. Not good. But fortunately, everything else is terrific.
The presentation isn’t fancy, but it doesn’t need to be. Pure Chess feels great when you’re
playing it, and really, this is how you make a good chess video game. But the why—the
part about using your medium to solve a problem of the actual game—well, that’s where
Pure Chess is a little too pure.