Simplicity takes time. That’s the only logical explanation as to why a chess game has not appeared on XBOX Live Arcade until the team @ Freeverse & Strange Flavour decided to release some popular board games for us to enjoy. The give us Checkers, Mancala, Reversi as well as Chess for a very tidy 400 Microsoft Points ($5). While the release is far from perfect, it is one of those cases where we take what we can get.
The four board game treat comes to us in what we hope is decent graphics. How hard can it be to represent black, white and a matching gameboard? Thankfully there is no eyesore here. Pieces are easily decipherable and you can tell what obstacles are in your way as you try to win the game. One notable exception in all of this, the chess game does not start with a top down view; it’s slanted. However, with the analog sticks you can move the camera’s perspective but its not perfect. This game also supports XBOX Live Vision which is mostly a bad thing in one-on-one encounters. Imagine getting your gaming rear handed to you by some five year old kid. Now that’s bad enough on its own but think of his face laughing and mocking you. Yeah, there is nothing that will give you more humiliation than the sincere and disrespectful face of a snotty kid as he shows his Checkers poweress.
For some reason whenever board games make the jump to game machines or your local computer they seem they want to include some infinite looping classical music that never seems to end. Furthermore, it is not the complete works of Mozart either. In fact, we aren’t even sure where the music is coming from except from the bowels of a very unsavory place. Sadly, this is exactly what we get from Spyglass. Sure it is in 5.1 Dolby Digital, but it could be in 6.1 DTS and I still be looking for the mute button. So whenever I start a game of Mancala, I am desperately going to the custom soundtrack feature and picking out my favorite Buckcherry tune. That is except chess where I need complete silence so I don’t throw my queen in the middle of a bishop’s path.
Four classic board games brought to electronic life; Chess, Checkers, Mancala, and Reversi. All games revolve around strategy and positioning. Chess is where you take rooks, knights, bishops, queens and pawns and attempt to checkmate your opponents king. Checkers involves a simpler concept where you attempt to make kings of your pieces and jump over the rest of your competition. Mancala, the oddest game in the bunch is where you move your pebbles to your pit or try to capture the other opponent’s pebbles so that you can move them to your pit. The final game is Reversi or known to some as Othello. This is one where you attempt to control the most pieces on the gameboard by turning over your opponent’s pieces.
Gameplay is pretty easy to figure out with the Spyglass interface and even if you are a complete novice (which was the case for me with Mancala and Reversi) you should be able to pick it up within a few games and be able to defeat the computer. That brings us to difficulty, the computer’s AI is for the most part non existent. True, we don’t want these as hard as some checkers and chess simulations that exist out there, but a little difficulty gauge would have been appreciated. When I haven’t played Reversi since my age was in single digits and I’m making the computer look like a rank amateur by the fourth or fifth game, there is a problem. Mancala is the only one where you might have some difficulty beating the computer regularly as the initial start positions are random.
It’s hard to judge games where the replay is solely decided on how many people are playing the game. As of the first week on XBOX Live, it placed second behind Bomberman Live as the most played Arcade Live title of the week. I would imagine that this would continue to be popular as time continues due to its simplicity. But what if you don’t want to play with some stranger you never met or your friend can’t get on Live because of a thunderstorm in their area? Well then you best just break out the old boardgame and start counting pieces. No Local Multiplayer, none. None of these board games have anything hidden or cards that must not be shown to other players. What you see is what you get. There is no reason for them not to include this outside of pushing the XBOX Live format down our throats. The achievements are the standard 12/200 but expect to get these quickly. The computer related ones can be acquired in about an hour or so of work while the online ones will only take up a little more time (e.g. winning 10 chess games online) unless you are just a really awful player.
Spyglass Board Games that succeeds and fails due to its simplicity. On one hand, it is four great board games that are easy to pick up and learn. On another, it supports XBOX Live Vision and should have a host of players to play against for a long time. Furthermore, it’s just cheap at $1.25 a game. But once you get past the easy A.I. & achievements and the lack of local multiplayer; you start to realize how sloppy the the presentation is and how much better it could have been. Since the XBLA format does allow for updates we can only hope that local multiplayer is added and maybe a couple of other games to boot (but hopefully they get a little creative and don’t just give us Chinese Checkers; I’d like to see Go or Connect Four). Until then, it suffices for what it is, a small diversion where at the end of the day; a five year old kid will trounce you & tell you to hang it up old man. *sigh*
Other Coverage & Reviews