Chess is one of the oldest games on the planet. It has survived thousands of years and countless civilizations. In the computer age it has endured everything from Chessmaster 5000 to long-forgotten (but oft beloved) Star Wars Chess. Now in 2009 chess faces its most challenging opponent yet – your pocket. At the time of this writing there are dozens of chess games available for the iPhone, and Chess Elite is one of them.
The fundamentals of chess are so ancient and well known than an attempt to explain them here would never do them justice, so for the sake of argument we'll assume that anyone reading this far is familiar with the game of chess itself and is dying to know what sets Chess Elite apart in the crowd. The answer, it would seem, is “not much.”
Chess Elite offers up some fairly basic gameplay options and mixes in an online offering that does more than enough to pull its weight, but the title lacks many of the bells and whistles you might expect from a paid chess offering in the App Store. The game doesn't offer any type of notation that would allow you to look back at previous moves and study the ongoing tactics of your opponents. And while it does offer a variety of different boards and pieces, they all feel like little more than ClipArt images and different colored backgrounds. For $3.99, they're asking a lot for such a mediocre offering.
The big draw in Chess Elite is the inclusion of push notification. At the moment, this is the only chess title to offer such a feature. If you're playing online against an opponent you'll receive a push notification on your iPhone without needing to have the Chess Elite app open. You could be listening to music, checking your mail, playing Bejeweled, or simply have the device in standby, and you'll receive a notification that your opponent has made their move. It's a really nice feature, and when it comes to slow-thinking turn-based games like chess it's certainly something I'd like to see more of. Games like Scrabble and World Wars could all use push-notification.
The multiplayer that utilizes said push feature works quite well, too. You can play locally by passing the unit back and forth, online against friends, or online against strangers. This means you'll never be without someone to challenge you to a battle of wits. Considering the lack of decent multiplayer games on the iPhone, this is definitely a welcome addition.
As good as the multiplayer is though, it's hard to justify the price in the face of competition. Chess with Friends offers a similar multiplayer experience (without push notification) and it's available free of charge. Chess Classics offer a beautiful 3D presentation, recreates famous matches, and even teaches you how to play for only 99 cents. The list goes on and on.
Chess games are a dime a dozen on the iPhone, and Chess Elite is no exception. While push notification is a nice feature it's just not enough to make it stand out in the crowd. Better chess games exist on the iPhone, many of them free. If you're a ravenous chess addict who needs to be notified the moment it's your turn you're going to appreciate the push feature. If not, Chess Elite just isn't worth the asking price.