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PS Vita's game drought made me resort to buying Pure Chess. How did that possibly turn out to be a good thing?

I had my birthday recently, and birthdays often bring something wonderful: Birthday money. In my case, some of it was birthday money in the form of PSN credit, which was very welcome. Of course I was immediately and eagerly navigating my Vita towards the PS Store. Off I went, with plenty of credit with which to potentially buy TWO big games. Only... there weren't any.

"How can there not be anything worth buying?" I thought. "I have free money burning a hole in my virtual wallet, that has to be spent on the PS Store. Yet the selection here is all either stuff I've got, disappointing ports, or decent enough fare that's way overpriced." But you know what it's like when you've got actual money to spend. You have to find something. And that is how I ended up staring at the download bar filling up with my £4.99 purchase... of Pure Chess.

Above: Pure chess is an actual game on Vita that I bought with my own actual money

As the name would imply, it's just chess. As in the board game. Now, I agree that sounds impossibly sad in both senses of the word. But primarily sad because my £230 wonder console is so game-starved I'm resorting to buying budget range chess games that aren't essentially that different from The Chessmaster that I still have somewhere on my Game Gear from 1992. 

Above: Spot the difference! Vita's 3D wonder chess vs Game Gear's pixel chess

But the Vita game has truly 'daptured' my imagination (that's an 8-bit Chessmaster voice sample gag, folks) and, incredibly, I can't stop playing. It helps, of course, that I haven't played chess in ages, and that the computer opponents soon move from 'awful' to 'omnipotent', seeing everything and considering every eventuality, compared to me contemplating why chess horses can't jump in a straight line. Yes, I've tried almost 30 times to win the Challenger tourney, never getting past the second game of four.

Above: That's 'Attempted' with a capital because it KNOWS I'M CRAP AT CHESS

Unlike my skill at chess, the game is genuinely great. The 3D rendered chess pieces are so reflective and detailed, they even fooled Hooters into thinking they were pre-rendered footage instead of real-time 3D models. This is deluxe stuff. It's full-featured, too. It's got internet 'play by mail' multiplayer, an interactive tutorial to teach you the finer aspects of the game like En Passant and even gives you a brief explanation of what makes a good or bad opening.

You can even save replays of your matches and watch them back to see where you went wrong. And I've actually been doing that. Considering the last game I did that on was Super Street Fighter IV when I got schooled by a fellow Sakura player, you're looking at a game worth putting the hours into. The very design of chess is like a hardcore video game. The rules of play are really just like a Final Fantasy Tactics or Advance Wars at heart. This unit type can move like this, this unit type is more valuable than this… it's the most hardcore and unforgiving war game on any console.

Above: It even works with the buttons OR the touch screen. Couldn't ask for more

Sure, I wish the music was better and I wish that, in my gushing enthusiasm, I hadn't paid good money for the 'Central Park' area DLC and set of animal pieces (funnily enough, animals from behind all look similar in a furry kind of way, meaning I have absolutely no idea which piece is what). And you can't use the Central Park add-on as a location unless you use the animal set. That's crap. But also beside the point.

The point is this: Vita does have games. You just have to look a little further than the obvious ones. Everybody's Golf may have won the most hours of my time out of all the Vita games thus far, but smaller titles like Motorstorm RC, Super Stardust Delta and now this are equally enthralling. I also took a punt on the £5.49 Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack. I'd missed its PSN predecessor, assuming it was some kiddy game – perhaps a crappy cartoon tie-in that I've never heard of.

Above: Looks like a Saturday morning kids TV show, doesn't it?

It was only the extraordinarily high user rating taken as an average of over 1,000 people that made me give it a try on Vita on my birthday. Not that many idiots can know how to use the review button, right? Turns out, as our review attests, it's actually a blend of Katamari and Loco Roco, with a little Jellycar thrown in for good measure. And it's got a wicked sense of humour. Squelching along, ingesting students at their graduation ceremony in revenge for what some scientists did to your poor blobby friends? Sheer brilliance.

So what's the moral of the story? Taking a gamble on two cheap games that don't look or sound like worthy purchases (at least when you're looking at mere words on the store) have given me joy, challenge, and fun. Vita will get more big games soon – it kinda has to. But in the mean-time, don't think you're 'too good' to spend your money on the smaller fare. Why let your Vita become a very pretty paperweight because you refuse to play anything on it until the big guns arrive?

'Small games are not what I bought my Vita for' is an easy argument to make, but if you didn't buy your Vita for great-looking, challenging and absorbing video games (and cheap ones at that), what did you buy it for?

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21 comments

  • talleyXIV - May 16, 2012 7:08 p.m.

    You can play chess online in a multitude of places and some actually have very good graphics. Great job Vita, this is like selling food outside of a soup kitchen.
  • angelusdlion - May 17, 2012 8:27 a.m.

    Or trolling on the internet?
  • NoAssociation - May 16, 2012 4:31 p.m.

    I'm still addicted to Virtual Tennis 4, enjoyed Uncharted and will more than likely return to collect the hidden items, Montezuma Blitz has been a nice daily distraction (haven't spent any money on it), and Mutant Blobs Attack & Super Stardust were great value priced games. In other words I've loved playing my vita so far. I even picked up Escape Plan and haven't really played it due to lack of boredom. Sure I'd like to see a more consistent stream of great releases, but the launch was so solid I haven't been bored with the system yet. I can't wait to see what they announce at E3!
  • nemesisuprising - May 16, 2012 2:49 p.m.

    I know im gunna be killed for saying this, but if they put ACTUAL work into, this would be cool for a yu-gi-oh game...lol...
  • crossed23 - May 16, 2012 2:21 p.m.

    For those of us who enjoy indie games and third party titles, Vita has had a fantastic lineup so far. I've barely put the thing down since it released.
  • RandyChimp - May 16, 2012 noon

    Funny really, I bought Pure Chess too and its my most played Vita game, and I also own Uncharted, Unit 13, Fifa and Super Stardust, so I've effectively paid £230 to play chess.
  • MidgardDragon - May 16, 2012 9:29 a.m.

    Of course if you haven't played Mortal Kombat you COULD be playing it. It is a port but far from a dissapointing one. It's essentially one of the top tier games othe Vita.
  • spideralex90 - May 16, 2012 9:21 a.m.

    This is why I'm wating for the inevitable Vita/Grand Theft Auto San Andreas(?) Stories bundle.
  • Shane86 - May 16, 2012 9:18 a.m.

    Does it teaches idiots like me who don't know how to play chess the basic rules?
  • GR_JustinTowell - May 16, 2012 11:09 a.m.

    Sure does :) It's quite simple really. Each piece type can only move a certain way. Any piece can take any piece, and if someone manages to take your king, it's game over. Simple to learn, pretty much impossible to master!
  • archnite - May 16, 2012 8:45 a.m.

    You know Chestmaster had great music. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqPX5J5xyqc
  • sourpunch - May 16, 2012 6:48 a.m.

    Looked at this article and immediately grabbed my Vita to grab Pure Chess only to realize it is not out in the U.S. sad day...
  • GR_JustinTowell - May 16, 2012 9:15 a.m.

    That is indeed sad. I've only got an EU PSN account, but I hear it's possible to set up another region. But I haven't tried that so don't quote me on it! I see on Twitter that the devs have been reading this very article, so hopefully they'll rectify the situation soon :)
  • FlagrantPilgrim - May 16, 2012 9:52 a.m.

    Yeah, it's possible. My primary account is U.S., but I have a Japanese account that I use for demos, ha!
  • taokaka - May 16, 2012 5:56 a.m.

    Is it really just a drought for vita games or a game drought in general, the other platforms seem to be battling the drought with a wealthy back catalogue though and the vita is struggling with just its launch titles. But anyway I was curious about this game after seeing two of the most hilariously over-dramatic trailers ever for it but decided against it at the time because my favourite childish chess tactic won't work on a computer, bluffing as I like to call it. It's a technique that evolved from straight out cheating in regular matches against a friend, what I would do is I would make an illegal move then watch what his strategy was for the next turn and then after he has made it say "too bad, my last move didn't count" and then I'd have the upper hand.
  • archnite - May 16, 2012 8:47 a.m.

    Even sadder is if I remember right PSP went through the same thing, a big burst of games and then nothing. Awe-well, one more week and the deluge begins.
  • Hobogonigal - May 17, 2012 1:47 a.m.

    Good job I'm nearly always teamed up with you in chess, although your tactic really annoys anyone we're against. Along with the old 'reappearing castle after it is taken' tactic.
  • Shadow Of Death - May 16, 2012 5:23 a.m.

    I wanna try this game, but I'm in Canada and it seems we don't have this. I would guess that USA doesn't get it either. I haven't played chess in ages either, except some shitty flash game a while ago.
  • Cloudiology - May 16, 2012 5:01 a.m.

    ah justin. you always manage to find awesomeness in the face of a desert.. i'm in the same boat as you but hadn't taken the risk. my vita does seem unused even though i enjoy a bit of BoF3 and gran turismo. but they're just ports. cheers for the heads up! also i love how you always love video games just that little bit more than most here..
  • bass88 - May 16, 2012 3:57 a.m.

    Considering the "in" thing nowadays is slag off everything that Sony is affiliated with (even if they donated £5bn to charity many would still say "The 3DS is still selling more! WOOT! PS Vita sucks my greasy balls!"), it's refreshing to read an article that actually bothered to put some effort into research and into making a point without coming off as biased.

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