Truly, a game of Kings...and Queens, bishops, knights, pawns, etc.
Chess is one of the most subtley complicated games that humankind has ever created. Its history lost to the sands of time, rumor has it that chess originated in India sometime between 1000 B.C. and 500 A.D. Buddhist monks are believed to have created the game as a substitute for war, allowing men of reason to use their brains instead of their brawn to solve conflicts. The pieces were slightly different and the rules have changed in the thousands of years since, but the basic gameplay stayed the same. It's hard to believe that one of the most mathematically complex games ever conceived, one that we still use to test the power of the human mind versus that of a computer, was created over 3000 years ago.
In that time, chess has taken on many forms, the latest being Majestic Chess published by Vivendi under the Hoyle brand. With a stylistic Adventure mode that teaches the basics of chess and presents you with classic chess conundrums, it tries to inject more action into this ancient game of strategy. However, chess by any other name is still chess, and while it's obvious much time was spent animating the adventure, in the end it is still just a chess simulator. Then again, it's a pretty cool one.
Believe it or not, there are about 170,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 different ways to play the first ten moves in chess. No, I didn't just sneeze while holding down zero - there are seriously that many different combinations. Chess simulators are usually judged by their difficulty, since in the end the human brain is more capable of handling all the possibilities. In the aforementioned battle of wits between man and machine, they use a computer that can ONLY play chess. It can't do anything else. That's how much computing power the game requires in order for a computer to truly be a grandmaster.
For the rest of us, though, the computer opponent in Majestic Chess proves more than a match for even seasoned players. Majestic Chess allows you to tweak your opponent in numerous different ways, from basic difficulty to how much the computer values each piece. It can be played on either a two dimensional board viewed from above or a three dimensional board viewed isometrically. The two dimensional board, while less visually appealing, is better for your chess game. Without the physical interaction and adjustable perspective of a real chess board, seeing all the move possibilities from a 3/4 perspective is remarkably difficult.
I'll assume that by reading this review, you are familiar with how the game of chess is played. If not, then I highly recommend taking a look at this and learning how to play. Chess is an excellent mental exercise and good fun to boot. I mean, not all those guys sitting in the park playing are crazy...
The main feature that separates Majestic Chess from its competitors is the Adventure mode. Using some animated 3D images, the Adventure mode is a decent way to get younger gamers into chess.
But no matter how hard you try to think of this mode as an "adventure," it is really nothing more than a series of chess challenges with some nifty animated pictures. You move your character from place to place, you see a quick animation, then a text box pops up telling you something like, "A cackling witch sits in a grove of menacing trees. She says 'Who dares enter my domain? I challenge you to a game, if you win, I'll give you the Rook of Infinite Sadness.'"
Lady, the rook could be named Steve for all I care. It's still just a rook. You then play a chess scenario using the pieces you've already won to beat the computer. If you win, you get a new rook. If you lose, you try again. That's it. Not much of an adventure.
That being said, you can learn a lot about the chess notation and complex strategies from the Adventure mode, and this will undoubtedly turn you into a better chess player. The problem with Majestic Chess is that in order to appeal to a wider audience, it sells this Adventure mode as an amazing new way to play chess. It is neither amazing nor new. Still, it makes for a decent teacher of some of the finer points of the game and might be perfect for holding the interest of a younger gamer.
Full Internet multiplayer is also supported, allowing you to challenge anyone around the world to a game. You can even set the rules to the game, allowing for the handicapping of better players. Of course, you can always go do this at Yahoo or something for free.
Majestic Chess might just be chess game, but it's a good one. The Adventure mode, while not what it is billed to be, does give a good challenge to both beginners and skilled players alike. If you're a fan of chess and need a new game or have a child you wish to teach, Majestic Chess may just fit the bill. But don't expect anything amazing...just a game that has withstood thousands of years of human history.