With an extensive range of tutorials tucked beneath its board, Pure Chess is set to make a grandmaster out of the freshest chess newbie. There are unforced errors in its approach, however, that prevent it from matching up to the age-old game's traditional quality.
Pure Chess is the work of VooFoo Studios, the team behind Hustle Kings, and it shows in the pristine presentation. The board and environments shine enticingly where appropriate, while the pieces are textured to convincingly resemble stone or wood. Your background – library, penthouse or museum — and theme are selectable between games and are applied across each mode.
Beneath that fancy veneer lies a suitably cunning AI that will prove more than a match for most players when approaching all but the lowest difficulty settings. As you use the touch screen – or, more awkwardly, the analogue stick and buttons – to bat down the enemy's safeguards and bid to pin down their king, the CPU has more than enough talent to break down your defences and counter your tactics.
Yet it shares much of this knowledge with you upon request. A large number of tutorials, spanning the basics of each piece and through more complex manoeuvres right up to the end game, are accessible from the main menu. They're not compulsory, but unless you're a regular, proficient player of chess you'll likely learn a small trick or two, and they do a good job of explaining all the checks and mates.
You can test your new skills in single player exhibition matches, where you can set parameters such as time allowed for moves or how badly you want the CPU to thrash you. Match replay data can be saved, though unfortunately there's no option to quick save mid-match to resume later. For those looking for more than a quick go, tournaments of four consecutive games are also available. A challenge mode features dozens of puzzles to test your finishing skills by attaining checkmate in one to five moves; good luck with that.
Sorely missing, however, is standard multiplayer. There's no local 'pass the system about' hot-seating, nor ad-hoc, nor straightforward online. Instead there's message play, in which you and a friend can send moves to each other via PlayStation Network, with up to eight games running simultaneously. It's a nice idea that lends itself to chess perfectly, but in execution it's slow and clunky, with PSN partially to blame for its general access speed.
It takes too long to click into a message, tap the contained link, wait for the game to load up and get the match on screen before you can make your play. Consider the number of moves in an average game of chess, plus the potential tedium of a repetitious roundabout dance at the conclusion. Now add a minute or two before each move can even be considered, on top of breaks of play due to the play style, and the play by mail function fails to garner as much lustre as the play-pieces. What Pure Chess really needs is online multiplayer that can be played live, against friends and similarly-skilled strangers alike.
The general controls are also more serviceable than exceptional. The touch control works fast when it isn't being finicky, but there are definite instances where it's more arduous to select a move than it should be, particularly for pieces in the row furthest away. Ideally every tap would be perfect, but in reality there are frequent failures of recognition that mean you might have to press a piece two or three times before it's selected.
In addition the camera, also swung about with the touch screen, drags and doesn't glide where you want it to easily – it's better to cut out the zoom-ins and leave it resting in the standard view. You won't get to see the pretty pieces close up as often, but you get a far more playable game. Alternately, you could swivel around with the right analogue stick instead.
Pure Chess's basic game and artificial intelligence are appropriate for beginners and experts alike, with many tutorials and challenges to keep single players busy. However, the lack of multiplayer outside of the crawling message play hurts a game that is, by its very nature, a two player game, and it isn't aided by flow-breaking input problems.