Sega Master System / Mark III / Game Gear
I hate it when supposedly serious simulations are full of memory-hogging garbage you don’t really need! So, it would appear, do Sega — you won’t may graphic fills here, just a whole host of options that increase the game’s versatility and make it one of the best chess sim I’ve ever seen.
The pieces are still well drawn and easily recognisable on the cream-and-tan board. Two modes of display are available: 3-D view and a less impressive, but more practical 2-D perspective. Options are the real stars though, all accessed through a brilliant icon system. No less user-friendly is piece movement; just highlight the square held by the piece in question, then press again on the square on which you intend to place it — illegal moves aren’t allowed.
In solo mode, there are nine skill levels to choose from, beginner to grand master. You can also play against a friend, or just watch the computer play itself! Obviously, the higher the level the longer the computer opponent takes to make a move, but Sega Chess allows you to force’ it to move, speeding things up dramatically. Select the adaptive option and after the first ten moves the computer limits its thinking time to the average of yours, allowing you to dictate the pace.
If you get stuck, ask the computer to suggest a move for you, rewind the game a move at a time, or change sides during play! Unfortunately, there’s no onboard replay mode, but a completed game can be catalogued using standard notation.
You can even set up the board to your own specifications. This can be used to solve those chess puzzles you see in the Daily Mail (perhaps that’s why no-one offers cash prizes any more!). A game such as this hardly lends itself to amazing sonics, but there’s an entertaining title tune, and spot FX when moving a piece. Optional speech synthesis tells you whose move it is and warns when a player is in check.
All the standard chess moves are possible, such as castling, en passant, and the promotion of a pawn on the eighth rank to a piece of your choice. Resigning is not catered for, but then I don’t suppose you need it.
Naturally, a chess game stands or falls on the quality of artificial intelligence offered by the computer opponent. Again, Sega have done a magnificent job — Sega Chess does seem to play like a real person. The difficulty curve is good, with the beginner’s level reasonably easy without being moronic. However, your opponent plays a very defensive game, and is perhaps a little overcautious — even when you have just your king, it takes ages to achieve checkmate. Experts could find even the toughest level a little easy, but most MS owners will find themselves well catered for. If you can’t play chess, a club is the best beginning, but this program is a useful adjunct and enthusiasts will find it fun too.
Against competition, a brilliant adaptation of an acient game