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Virtual Kasparov

Strategy. It’s the essential instrument to victory, the key aspect of a battle that ensures some semblance of your success. The resources under your control are powerful, but worthless if not used properly. You may have the deadliest weapon to ever grace the battlefield, but it will be meaningless without defense. And what of your small army of faithful minions? Will you command them to carefully venture forward into the thick of battle, or will you sacrifice them for some greater end? What about your elite group of warriors? Can you send them out to create a massive offensive front, or have them stay back to make an impenetrable defense? One wrong move can condemn your forces to a brief and brutal demise, or the right move can bring you one step closer to dominating your foe. But this epic clash of forces isn’t happening on some massive battleground. It’s happening on a Chessboard.

The game of Chess has been around for centuries, stemming from the Middle East and Asia, eventually making its way to the Western world. It has progressed from these antiquated beginnings to mainstream Internet gaming, where all you need is some spare time and a willing opponent. But unlike the rest of us commoners, the world’s greatest chess players don’t normally do their epic bouts over instant messaging. Instead, they travel the world, taking on whatever challenges are presented. Taking heed of this old fashioned method of tournament play, Virtual Kasparov allows us to wander among the continents and play Chess with some of the world’s finest. You’ll start off playing the people of Africa and America, but you’ll eventually spread out to all the continents, defeating one foe after another. And if you manage to take everyone down, you’ll get to face off against Garry Kasparov, regarded by many as the greatest Chess player alive.

However, the road to glory is paved with difficulty. You have to take on multiple opponents from their respective continents, each with their own style and skill level. It’s this varying degree of difficulty that makes Virtual Kasparov so much better than other Chess games. You can be the hardcore veteran Chess player or the pathetic rookie and still manage to find some enjoyment in the game. You’ll get to challenge all sorts of kooky characters, ranging from Italian truck drivers to bored housewives. The differences in the characters’ abilities will have the average Chess enthusiast on their toes, forcing them to reinvent their strategy with each new foe that comes along. Sometimes you’ll be able to wipe out an opponent with little effort, other times you’ll be desperately trying to save your King as the aggressive AI assassinates all of your pieces. Thankfully, the game doesn’t penalize you for losing, allowing you to refine your technique until you can outwit your adversaries.

But before you go challenge the crafty computer to a match, you might want to actually sit down and think about what you know about Chess. The AI in Virtual Kasparov is unforgiving of mistakes, no matter how new you are to the game. Thankfully, the game comes equipped with not only a tutorial, but also a Beginners Mode, which shows you all of the places that you can a selected piece during your turn. Though seasoned Chess players will pass over this little feature without so much a look, it is the ideal way to get newer gamers accustomed to the abilities and limitations of the individual pieces. If you’re unsure of what pieces were moved in the previous turn, you can always turn on the Indicator feature to show you what has transpired. And if you don’t feel like slogging through the Story Mode, you can always choose a Quick Start and play against the AI in some heated time matches. With a few neat features and some imposing opponents, this game will have you hunkered down over your GBA as you try to outmatch the computer.

There’s something alluring about setting up the pieces to the board, sitting back and planning your next move. Chess is a game that tests your analytical and logical abilities, making you think and play with the utmost care. And since you’ll be spending so much time obsessing over your potential maneuvers, chances are you’ll miss out on the graphics entirely. Or rather, the utter lack of graphics. While the game focuses so much on presenting a challenge to the potential gamer, the graphics and audio have been neglected, only giving us a basic two-dimensional view of the Chessboard. The pieces are made of simple black and white color, with nothing more than a simple outline to give it shape. The only notable graphics come with your adversaries, who are mere caricatures of the people they are trying to portray. You’ll be treated to Juan Benito’s mysterious and crafty eyes or Liliana’s horrible mug shot. While the drawings of these characters are superb, you’ll be spending too much time staring at the board to admire the handiwork. When you factor in a lackluster soundtrack and a limited supply of sound effects, it has the makings for a disappointing presentation.

Unlike many of the games out in today’s market, Chess has withstood the test of time, treating gamers and strategists alike to an experience like no other. I’m thankful that I had someone teach me how to play as a child, so that I can enjoy the game even more as I grow old. I still break out the old board when the opportunity arises. However, Virtual Kasparov is a godsend for those of us that have no one around to play, or those who don’t want to carry a Chessboard everywhere. Though lacking in satisfying graphics and audio, its wide variety of characters, playing styles, and difficulties will leave you gripping your GBA as you carefully plan your next move. And thus the traditional style strategy game is blended with modern technology, giving both young and old Chess fans something to cherish.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

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