Star Wars is everywhere. If you thought The Force Awakens has engulfed the world, licensed products based on the original trilogy kept coming for 30 years. Even in the gaming world, characters from a galaxy far far away were slapped on to every genre out there. Case in point: Star Wars Chess. Even back in 1993 when this game was released, digital chess was not a new idea, but adding Star Wars to anything makes it automatically cool.
Developed by The Software Toolworks, Star Wars Chess is perhaps something of a disappointment to fans of the movies. When I first booted this up many years ago, I was hoping for a unique take on that virtual board game first seen in the Millennium Falcon. You know the one - the one where you let the wookie win. It's called Dejarik in case you didn't know. Instead this is just a regular chess game with all of your favourite Star Wars characters except Han ('cos you know he'll just shoot first).
Each side represents the light or dark side of the force with the icons of sci-fi cinema taking the spots of rooks, knights and the like. For example, the light side has built an army of Artoo units as your dispensable pawns while the dark side has an intimidating row of storm troopers. Luke and the Emperor play the role of the Kings so players must protect them at all costs. What is interesting - and rather emasculating - is that Darth Vader is the dark side's Queen. She may be the most formidable piece on the board, but it does make you wonder what the exact relationship is between the Emperor and his apprentice.
The biggest reason to remember just how a knight (aka Chewbacca or a Tuscan Raider) moves is what you witness when a piece is taken. I say witness, because what you see will perhaps blow your geeky mind. Ever wanted to see Chewbacca get blown up by the mechanical beauty of an AT-ST? Fancy seeing Princess Leia fight her father instead of Luke? Have you ever speculated how boss a fighter Yoda is (Episode II doesn't exist so it doesn't count)? Now you can in some surprisingly violent animations. Much like Battle Chess, trying to find all of the different combinations is the most rewarding part of this game, but when you've seen them once, you do tire of them.
So what we're left with is plain old Chess. How does this ancient board game compare to other titles on the market? Well, despite using the infamous and award winning Chessmaster 3000 as its base code, not very good. Moving is slow, even when you turn off the snail-paced walking animations. The fighting scenes may be fun for a few views, but once the novelty's worn off, they just interrupt the already glacial pace.
Believe it or not, there are several versions of this game. The DOS version, being the original, kept the fights on the chess board where other pieces could often obscure your view. The Windows 3.1 version, which came out at the same time, is smoother and better looking. They even remembered to play the fights in a separate arena giving you full view of the carnage. It was also released on SEGA's ill-fated Mega CD add on for the Mega Drive. The main difference here (other than a lack of detail) is that the animations take the form of FMV cut-scenes instead of animated sprite work. As a result, they take up more of the screen, as well as taking place on their own arena flying through space. It plays a bit faster too, with walking animations removed completely. A quick press of the B button will also switch to a boring "2-D" mode without all of the bells and whistles of a Star Wars theme.
Does it deserve the #49 position in Computer Gaming World's worst games of all time? While there is a case, I would argue no. As in all chess games, there is a limited amount of fun here. It does everything the game set out to do but chess is still chess. Unless you were hoping for a game of Dajerik that is.
To download the games, follow the links below. These custom installers exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox running Microsoft Windows 3.1 to bring the PC game to modern systems and Retroarch with the Genesis Plus GX core to emulate the SEGA CD. Manual included for the SEGA CD version. Tested on Windows 10.
Download PC Version
Download SEGA CD Version
Star Wars Chess is © The Software Toolworks
Star Wars is © Disney / LucasFilm
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me