Overall Rating: 1.5/5 Stars
In 1990, Data East published another video board game for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. This time the title was Battle Chess, a cartridge with programming done by Beam Software, and a home console port of the popular board game of chess. How does it compare to the real-life version?
Chess is a two-player game, and Battle Chess can be a two-player video game, or a one-player mode against the computer A.I. opponent, or even a match observed between two computerized adversaries. Rather than have an options screen, the game rather abruptly begins after the boring title screen, and all variable options then become available through a menu by pressing Select.
The options on the menu are moderately deep are include board set-up, move take-back, start a new game, suggest a move, or choose from one of six difficulty levels for the chess-player A.I. Otherwise, the game follows the play of chess for the most part, and pieces to move are selected with the A button, along with where they should go. The B button cancels a selection in order to choose a different piece.
The distinctive aspect of Battle Chess, though, is the titular battle sequences that take place whenever a piece captures another. There is a brief, crudely animated cutscene involved one medieval character killing the other. However, these fights are slow, ugly, and dull, and the player will likely grow weary of them after the novelty passes of seeing each character’s killing moves (the queen uses magic, for example, and the rook becomes a block-fisted golem).
These battles are enabled when the “3D PIECES” setting is chosen. The problem with this setting is that not only is ever capture animated, but every movement is as well, meaning that whenever a piece moves on the board, the character (a literal knight, king, etc.) actually walks to the desired spot. This would be fine if it were executed well, but the bogged-down, cumbersome, lackadaisical way in which it is done renders the entire affair quite yawn-worthy. There is an option to use “2D PIECES” instead, rendering the pieces as the traditional chess shapes instead of actual characters, which allows not only for quicker moves but also removes the battle scenes. This is the mode highly recommended for people who actually want to play a game of chess in Battle Chess.
This is an ugly game. From the slow-animated cherubs in the Settings screen, to the yellow-and-black chessboard against a red background, to the terribly rendered fight scenes, this is just not a good-looking game. Considering that it is just a chess simulation, there is little else to comment on concerning the visuals.
Yet for the soundtrack there is even less to comment on, since there is no in-game music and the sound effect themselves are gritty, grinding, harshly rendered noises rather than true effects.
The game of chess is certainly not an original NES idea, but the concept of animating the characters was a welcome feature. It is a shame that it was not implemented to better, or at least more efficient, fashion.
And that is the fate of Battle Chess – remembered as a clunky, clodsome game devoid of spark and pageantry. This is especially unfortunate because the A.I. opponent is actually quite well-programmed and deep, posing a considerable challenge even for seasoned chess enthusiasts. But, after all, this is just a video board game, and perhaps not even the best chess game on the NES, considering The Chessmaster. As such, Battle Chess gets one and a half stars out of five for being an okay chess simulator but offering little else, and even the supposed selling points of the animated battles being a letdown.
For more reviews of other NES video games, check out NintendoLegend.com.