Mac Game Review: Chessmaster 9000

Unlike the Windows version of the game, the Mac does not see yearly updates. While this is generally a good thing, as only small changes were made year-over-year, the last Mac port of this best-selling series was not written for Mac OS X.

Mac OS X does come with a chess game. But it is only a game, and a rather limiting one at that. Chessmaster has always been more than just a game, and that is the reason to consider the purchase -- for both the novice and pro alike.

Minimum System Requirements
Mac OS X 10.2
700 Mhz G3/G4
256 MB RAM
1.3 GB HD Space
QuickTime 6

Recommended System Requirements
Mac OS X 10.3 or later
1 Ghz G4
512 MB RAM
1.3 GB HD Space
QuickTime 6

Test Computers
Mac OS X 10.4.6
1 Ghz PowerBook G4
32 MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9000

Mac OS X 10.4.6
Dual 2.5 Ghz PowerMac G5
256 MB ATI Radeon 9800 XT

You will want to install 1.0.1, then 1.0.2 to be able to play in OS X "Tiger." The game plays just as good on my PowerBook as on my G5, the only difference being a slight bit of "lag" once in a while on the PowerBook. Seeing as this is not a FPS, this is hardly an issue. This does not detract from the game at all.

With countless free chess games and learning tools out there, the question has to be asked: Why spend $40 on Chessmaster 9000? After diving into the game, the answer is simple. Chessmaster has it all -- this has always been the appeal to this game. You don't simply get a game, you get a game that also teaches you how to play, and teaches you how to play better.

Chessmaster is also overwhelming, not only in its modes and options, but in its interface. While playing a game, you have no less than seven windows open, not to mention the window with the chessboard. Thankfully you can arrange and resize the windows however you wish, and hide the ones you don't need. Once you have a window arrangement to your liking, it is remembered for subsequent games.

When you first launch the game, you are asked to create a new user, and indicate your skill rating. If you do not have one, a simple question will determine your initial rating. The game tracks this rating as you play, allowing easy matching to other players at your skill level.

Chessmaster is broken into seven "Rooms." The Game Room and Tournament Room are where you play chess. The extensive Classroom has instructions to better your game. The Library has a Chess Glossary (in PDF), a long list of Classic Games to study, and an Opening Book editor/reference. The Kids' Room provides a basic interface complete with "Kids Clay" chess set and instruction geared towards youngsters.

The Database Room provides all the data you could ever want to know on thousands of chess games, as well as a way to query this data. The last room, Chessmaster Live, connects you to GameRanger for Internet matches or allows you to play over a LAN. It is unfortunate that Mac and Windows Chessmaster 9000 players cannot play against each other, but this is because of the online networks used for both versions of the game.

As stated, the game offers a lot for both novice and pro players. Since I fall squarely into the novice category, I quietly walked over to the Classroom section, possibly the best way to learn more about chess. The Classroom is broken into four sections, with tutorials, drills, quizzes, exams, puzzles and more. Instructions are led by big names in pro chess: Josh Waitzkin, Bruce Pandolfini, and Larry Evens.

The voice-overs from the instructors and the speech while playing the game are a real high point in the overall experience. It sounds much better than even "Victoria," the best voice Mac OS X's own speech has to offer.

When it comes to actually playing the game, you also have a number of tools to help, even giving you a nudge if needed. The Mentor Lines window suggests a series of moves for you, a Visual Thinking window allows you to see potential moves, and a Blunder Alert will let you know if your last move was not so good. It even provides alternatives for you. Also available is a Chess Coach window, a Game Analysis tool, and my personal favorite: an undo move option.

When not playing against a human opponent, you will be up against varying degrees of terrific AI. Also available are a bevy of personalities, over 150, including grand masters. This makes for limitless replay against all types of players.

Thanks to Feral Interactive, the most feature-packed chess game is available for the Mac. It is the only choice for chess fans who not only want to play, but learn more about one of the oldest games in the world.

(***** out of *****)

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