For the past year I have been searching for a good handheld portable chess computer, but after ordering some less expensive versions with highly pixelated LCD screens I have been disappointed until Chessmaster for the Nintendo DS was released.
I'm not 12, I'm 35, so I actually bought a Nintendo DS with the sole purpose of buying Chessmaster: The Art of Learning. Many things make this version of Chessmaster fantastic, yes, fantastic.
Did I mention that the Nintendo DS is portable? Yes, I know, but that's the best reason of all to get the DS and Chessmaster. The battery life lasts for many hours. While the graphics are excellent, Chessmaster for the DS uses light animation and the music (which you'll want to turn off immediately) is a series of beeps and boops much like that of R2-D2. So, with the music turned off, there isn't much going on except move analysis to drain the already long-lasting DS battery. The screen is very bright on a DS, and even with the brightness turned to minimum the game is very sharp and easy to view.
The DS version is full of options and character profiles to play just as the PC version is. One thing I have grown to enjoy is that in a rated game if you lose to your opponent he/she gains ELO. This means you need to be up on your game or your opponents get stronger and stronger until, conceivably, every character profile can beat you. There are 3 main difficulty levels with about 8 profiles in each. Believe me: you can find an acceptable profile to play against AND stare at them as they beat you...I mean as you beat them. You can play timed, untimed, random color, pick a color, quick games which let you take back moves and suggests moves if you need help, etc.
For chess education, the DS Chessmaster has a nice little tutorial on piece movement quirklily "narrated" by Josh with balloon captions as shown in the screenshot above. (Please note: this screenshot is terrible. The screen is actually very, very good.) Rules are explained and basic game play, but it does not go that deep into chess theory, strategy, tactics and so on.
The DS version also has minigames, and most are addictive while helping you practice forks and pins. There really is nothing childish about the minigames, and all ages will enjoy them. The "Mate in One" section seems to generate rather quickly. I have never seen or thought of two of the minigames on this version, so it is still holding my attention. The DS version comes with a couple of chess variants of which I'm not familiar. I'll let you experience those on your own...
Playing wirelessly with another DS is a great addition to the Chessmaster series. One of my students heard I got the DS version and brought his DS one day. We played a match and the transfer of moves was seamless. You can also play another DS user who does not have own game. You just host a game, search your wireless area for an opponent, and play. Although powerful, the DS interface is quite simple and streamlined. Dragging the pieces with the DS stylus just makes me giggle. Perhaps because of my age, I think this is one of the greatest things since sliced bread.
Now for the drawbacks. 1) I can't figure out how to delete saved games? You can save over games, but not delete them. Hmmm. The instruction manual says little. 2) I want to have some way to get my pic on my profile - but that's just silly, anyway. 3) You will spend way too much time playing this version of Chessmaster.
So right now, go out and buy a DS (only $129) and the game ($30) and you'll be glad you did. There are some handheld chess computers on-line for more than that, and although I have not played them, the screens look very much like a digital watch from 1982. I love that the DS recharges. I love that you can save different user profiles and games. I love that the interface is so easy and intuitive. Did I mention you can drag the pieces with your stylus! I know, but it's still cool.