When Ubi Soft tapped Gameloft to issue their Chessmaster product for the Pocket PC, it was only a matter of time till we saw a Kasparov title hit the scene to compete with it. Kasparov Chessmate is a well rounded chess title. Possessing an adequate artificial intelligence, it should provide most casual to intermediate players a tough challenge. It is, vis-a-vis difficulty, by no means the bane of Kasparov's career, Deep Blue, in the palm of your hand but serious players will have some features to look forward to, including an extensive set of historical matches.
Kasparov Chessmate looks ho hum in the beginning. But that's a disservice to the product as Kasparov Chessmate features tiles and figurines that range from the classic 2D top down look to pseudo-isometric 3D. One of the things I hate most about colorful chess games is how they make all the pieces indistinguishable from one another. Besides the pawns, I couldn't tell which one was which. Kasparov Chessmate doesn't fall into that trap. Its overall design is very functional.
Novices will find a lot to like about Kasparov Chessmate. There is a helpful hint button for those who are stuck when making a move. Play is separated into three categories. A quick match can be made against a human player (hotseat mode) or the computer; the latter's difficulty can be configured based on the universally accepted chess rating. Still, more than a few people who looked at the game on my handheld commented whether there was a level below the Easy rating – like someone with a chess rating close to zero. I guess everyone needs to experience the hubris of winning by a landslide from time to time.
The other bulk of the game is comprised of matches against members of Kasparov's chess club. Simply put, you're pitted against pre-defined characters with skills and attributes molded by the developer. It's here that you'll be able to participate in marathons and exhibition matches.
Every game that is saved can be reviewed at a later time. Unlike Chessmaster, though, there isn't a lot of narrative text to describe the significance of each match. Nor is there in-game commentary – what if Kasparov had made this move instead of that one. Those are the types of training aids that come with the Chessmaster series. All of the historical matches, moreover, deal with Kasparov, including his famous matches against machines and Kramnik. But again, the historical feature isn't broad enough to include other personalities.
A training section is included in the game. Instead of interactive matches, though, the tutorial is simply a brisk read on defense setups on the board as well as the very basics of chess. I would've rather gone through an interactive tutorial; something that Hexacto has awfully been good at in the past.
For novices, intermediate and casual players, Kasparov Chessmate should be more than enough. It's a very usable game, with features to organize your saved games and the ability to review them. There are undo and hint functions that go many levels to help assist the newer players. However, the artificial intelligence in Kasparov Chessmate tends to make quick decisions. Most moves are made under thirty seconds, even in untimed games. This is a mixed blessing. For gamers on the go, you'll appreciate the quick response. For serious matches, you might want the computer to deliberate a little more. But if you're looking for something that complex, you might want to try some of the professional titles or wait for a copy of Deep Junior to show up on the Pocket PC. Until then, Kasparov caters to a large enough audience that it shouldn't go unnoticed.
[08/10] Program Size
[13/15] Learning Curve