Platform: Gameboy Advance

Genre: Strategy

Publisher: Titus Software

Developer: Titus Software

ESRB: E (Everyone)

Released: Q2 2002

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Virtual Kasparov

Score: 7.5 / 10



- Artificial intelligence presents tough challenge
- Actually will improve your chess-playing ability




- Subpar visuals
- Appeals to a small gaming demographic


"I quite honestly donít know if there are enough GBA owners who are clamoring for a chess title. Weíll see how it pans out, but let me reiterate that this is a quality chess game thatís worth purchasing if you have a strong interest in chess, whether you are a novice player, expert or somewhere in-between."


There have been only a few chess games to pop up as video game or PC titles. Battle Chess and Archon are the only ones that come to mind that had any kind of sales success, and they focused on actual combat between animated chess pieces during moves to appeal to the average frenzied action-addicted gamer. But that isnít typical to chess and its more deliberate and intellectually provoking gameplay. And game developers have seemed reluctant to delve into a new chess title project because chess games fit into the quite small puzzle game niche that contains titles like Tetris and Bust-A-Move. That is until now, with the release of Titus Interactive Studioís newest Game Boy Advance entry, Virtual Kasparov (VK).  


virtual-kasparov-1.jpg (5678 bytes)          virtual-kasparov-2.jpg (5527 bytes)


Titus Interactive Studioís selling pitch is that this is a not just a chess title, but a battle game too. By including a story mode, the developers are trying to convince todayís gaming public that chess is just like Street Fighter or Tekken: guiding a character through a story battling it out in arenas (the chess board in this case) against a large number of opponents. Itís an interesting attempt to attract purchasers to be sure, but donít be fooled. While itís true that chess is indeed a battle of intellects, comparing this game to Street Fighter or Tekken is laughable. The story mode merely adds a pinch of spice to the game of chess. You must go through 31 opponents to claim the title of the ultimate Grandmaster, achieved if you can defeat the 20 different personalities, five masters, five Grandmasters, and the gameís namesake, the worldís greatest chess player alive, Russian legend Gary Kasparov. The story mode takes place on a map of the world, with each demographic area getting six progressively more difficult opponents, each who has their own personality and playing style until the only one left to defeat is Kasparov. If you just want a straightforward chess experience and are new to chess, try out the tutorial mode, which will teach you how to play the game effectively. There are approximately 50 lessons in the tutorial, including chess strategy and tactics, the rules of the game, and expert analysis that are valuable lessons needed to pick up the nuances of the deceivingly easy game of chess.  



The gameís greatest asset and what saves it from mediocrity is its unbelievably tough artificial intelligence. Your chess know-how will be tested severely and if you give VK some thorough playing sessions, you actually will improve your chess smarts. The A.I. is THAT good. (It makes up for the lackluster visual and audio elements of the game.) VK is tough, even for those who have a sound chess background, but ultimately becomes rewarding if you are able to get past the Grandmasters and Kasparov. While playing against the CPU is a formidable task in itself, if you attain mastery over the gameís A.I. there is the option to play against a human opponent either on a single GBA or two linked systems with the Game Link cable.


Visually, thereís not much to VK. You get some plain-looking boards and pieces, although there are differently designed boards to choose from. The only place where there is any other kind of graphical presentation is the cartoonish appearance of the personalities that fill the story mode. Theyíre average to a fault and donít utilize the GBAís rendering capability to anywhere near its fullest, but again this is a chess game, where the gameplay is more important than the visuals. Itís one of those rare titles that doesnít rely on stunning graphics to be well received by gamers.


There is the option to use a 3D board, but I wouldnít recommend it. Although it looks better, the board is tilted at such an angle as to make it difficult and frustrating to move your pieces and figure out an effective winning strategy. Youíre much better off sticking to the normal board layout to enjoy VKís gameplay. Sound and music arenít even part of the equation in rating VK, unless you include the very helpful beeping sound that indicates you are making a move that will place your king in jeopardy of defeat. Itís a great heads-up that helps you establish a better understanding of the intricate nature of avoiding a loss and developing winning chess moves.


Titus claims that VK is ďthe battle game that actually makes you smarter.Ē It may not make you intellectually brighter, but if nothing else, VK will actually improve your chess-playing IQ. It definitely improved mine. This is a title that belongs in a tight gaming niche and fans of quality puzzle games that provide a daunting challenge may want to check VK out. But it isnít for everyone, and Titus is taking a noble risk with VK.  Releasing puzzle games usually translates into smaller sales than more popular and mainstream genres like sports and first-person shooters. I quite honestly donít know if there are enough GBA owners who are clamoring for a chess title. Weíll see how it pans out, but let me reiterate that this is a quality chess game thatís worth purchasing if you have a strong interest in chess, whether you are a novice player, expert or somewhere in-between.


- Lee Cieniawa


(May 18, 2002)


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