As far as I can tell, there are only three criteria by which a chess video game can be judged. First, the skill level of the computer as an opponent is crucial. Will you be forced to play at a particular level of difficulty, or can you tailor the computer's expertise to match your own?
Next, there should be plenty of setup and game play options available. Can you play as the black or white pieces, take back moves and ask the computer for hints when you need them?
The Game Gear version of the familiar Chessmaster computer title excels in these, as well as the third criterion - the third, of course, is less important than the first two, but for me it poses the most interesting question of them all: Does it have neat graphics and sound? This one sure does, right from the title screen, which shows the box art as a warm, friendly voice speaks out, "Welcome ... to the Chessmaster." This same voice announces each move and its consequences with the same calm tones: "White ... black - capture ... white - check, and mate."
The play controls are incredibly smooth. A floating hand moves around the screen at your command - press "A" button and the fingers close on the nearest piece, and press it again to put the piece down after you've moved it. The only problem I see is that the d-pad isn't the best substitute for a mouse; it would have been better with the PSP's analog nub or the Nintendo DS' touch screen. But then again, this is a Game Gear game, so there's no way of offering analog control, a touch screen or a mouse ... you're stuck with this adequate (albeit it sluggish) d-pad control.
Of course, the program won't allow any illegal moves; in fact, you can get a quick lesson in the fundamentals of the game by using the "show moves" option - when you pick up a piece, small dots show where that piece can move. Learning to plot strategies is a horse of an entirely different color, but (speaking as a chess novice) I did learn quite a few tactics from watching the computer's moves and asking for hints at appropriate times. Suffice it to say that I was able to beat the computer at the easiest setting, and the highest level of difficulty proved to be too tough for some more experienced chess players. Oh, and of course there's a two-player option ... what kind of chess game would this be if you couldn't play it with a friend?
The Chessmaster looks and plays just fine on the Game Gear - I dare say that it's more fun than the real thing.