The 3DO doesn’t seem to get much love in the retro gaming community. Much like the Atari Jaguar, the 3DO has a reputation for poor quality software. Indeed, there are more than a few stinkers out there. There were, however, a few rather good system exclusives (or were until the platform died and publishers ported some titles to the more successful PlayStation and Saturn). That being the case, you might think I’d be reviewing some of these stand out games. Unfortunately for you, gentle reader, not this time. Nope, you’re getting Battle Chess, a game that has seen more ports than a merchant seaman.
Beginning life way back on the Apple II, Battle Chess was ported to the 3DO in 1993. By this time, I’d had my hands on the Amiga version for a few years already. Fun factoid – this game featured in the film “The Rachel Papers” starring a young Dexter Fletcher – and I didn’t have to look that up. That probably says more about me, to be honest…
Anyway, Battle Chess is a decent chess game with 3D animations depicting movement and the pieces being taken. The graphics are decent but nothing special. In fact, there is not much of a difference between the 3DO and earlier 16/32-bit versions for the Amiga, ST and Archimedes. There is also a 2D view which, if you want to play the game at anything more than a glacial pace, is the one to go for. After playing for a while, you realise that the 3D view is more of a gimmick than anything else. It certainly looks pretty, but if you just fancy a quick game of chess, waiting for the animations to play out can become tedious. The animations are, to be fair, quite good and could certainly be described as tongue in cheek and quite amusing, at least for the first few games. The choice between 2D and 3D is a definitely one of preference but since the whole selling point of the game is the 3D view, you may feel short changed if you settle for just the more plain yet clearer view.
Sound wise, you benefit from the CD format with a respectable classical soundtrack. A word of warning here: the music resets with every move. You get what I call the “thinking” music until you make a move, then each player gets their own tune for the move, then we are back to the “thinking” music again. If you play this game at a decent pace, you’ll be heartily sick of the soundtrack very quickly.
Gameplay wise, well, its a game of chess. As noted, the 3D game is slow, and you can change the difficulty level by allowing the computer opponent longer to consider its moves. Doing that, however, means a game length that can last literally hours! You can also play against a human opponent if you have one to hand. At least that would get rid of the thinking microchip, which does become quite a fixture on the higher difficulty levels.
The manual is impressive though, with a nice introduction to the game and the moves and strategies available. Even if you have never played a game of chess in your life, you’ll have a decent understanding just from the manual.
It’s not necessarily a bad game, but it’s just a filler and, if you’ve played any of the other versions out there, you’re not getting much more (CD soundtrack aside). That would not have helped the 3DO verison back in 1993 if you’d paid several hundred pounds for the console and then full price for this game whilst an Amiga or ST owner could pick a copy up from the bargain bin. Nor could you use this title to show off your new shiny kit to your friends.
It might seem like I am being rather harsh on Battle Chess when it really is just an inoffensive port. The issue with ports is a difficult one though. Without ports, your software range might look a tad thin, but too many straight ports do nothing to convince people to buy into the format. Then you have really poor ports (looking at you, 3DO Doom), which hammer the public image of the console against its peers. By 1995, the 3DO was starting to get some good games (Star Fighter being a very good example here) but by that point, the PlayStation and Saturn were well established and offering a visible improvement in capabilities.
So, Battle Chess. A decent port, that cannot be argued, of a title that filled a gap in the 3DO’s catalogue. If you like chess games and have a 3DO, this is the game for you – which is good because as far as I can tell, this is the only chess game for the 3DO. It is not, however, an essential purchase and is really only for the most ardent of collectors.
A good conversion of an unwarranted, average title – it’s a game of chess, no more, no less.