A chess game for Wii? Well I never. What's shocking is not that this game has come out on Nintendo's motion-sensing, casual gamer-oriented console, it's that it's taken so long. Ah well. It's here now. So will Wii Chess ease those chess pains, or should we call it a knight?
On the face of it, Wii Chess is everything a chess fan could want. You can play chess, which is a good start, you can play against a computer which ranked third in the 2007 World Computer Chess Championship in Amsterdam, which will please chess enthusiasts, and you can play online against friends or complete strangers (crucially, if you disconnect or quit a match your player rating will decrease and your opponent's will increase), which, for a budget Wii title, is perhaps more of a surprise than you might think. But dig a little deeper and Wii Chess unveils one or two misgivings that suggest a slightly sloppy effort.
The game makes no use of the Wii Remote whatsoever, which is a real shame, since it's such an obvious game play mechanic to implement in a Wii chess game. Where you should be aiming and dragging chess pieces with the Wii Remote, instead you move about the board, and navigate all the game's menus, with the Wii Remote's d-pad - which can sometimes feel slow and clunky, and a bit weird.
There are some nice touches here - the game will show you where each piece can move, as well as where opposing pieces can move (you can turn this feature off). There's a neat replay feature - allowing you to analyse in depth what went right or wrong. And the game caters for novices too, with 10 levels of difficulty (when playing against the computer you can access useful hints which will give you move ideas if you're flummoxed). However, there's a feeling when playing Wii Chess that it's devoid of the charm we're accustomed to seeing in first-party Wii titles.
For example, the game looks as dreary as a Chess champion's wardrobe. This might be in keeping with the sport, but we'd have loved to have seen the option to import Mii's for example, or mix-up the layout with different skins (you can change the board and piece to a beach, crumblling wall and flower theme for example, but there's nothing to write home about). Or how about some animations when you take an opposing piece? Better that than what we have, which is just spinning pieces that fly off the board.
Because Nintendo has completely ignored the Wii's unique control system, Wii Chess does nothing to break out from the shackles of its sport - and won't be of interest to anyone who isn't a chess enthusiast already. But at the end of the day chess is chess, and no matter how you dress it up it won't change that fact. Here's the inevitable pay off - if you like chess check it out. If not, you probably haven't got this far anyway.