Chess is one of the more classic games that you’ll ever see represented in the visual medium of video games: Everyone in their late 20’s has probably played with an old DOS or Windows chess simulator at some point, waiting sometimes minutes at a time for the computer to figure out its next move before returning control back to the player. Chess is a game in which its myriad strategies and abundant complexities have allured players for centuries and is a game that rewards dedication more than almost any other. Chess Ultra is a visually appealing piece of chess software newly ported to the Nintendo Switch- so should you give Chess Ultra only an en-passant glance, or is it worth downloading? Let’s find out.
To address the elephant in the room immediately: Yes, you can play chess online in a web browser for free, or even in an app on your phone. Chess Ultra isn’t exactly out to reinvent the wheel when it comes to how the game is played. The largest difference players who boot up the game will notice is the stellar presentation; pieces and settings are rendered lavishly and attractively, with a plethora of options for those who are wishing to play very specific types of chess matches. The feature set is what defines a chess game, for those willing to spend the cash on one, and Chess Ultra has quite the selection of options and features for its players.
For those who are unfamiliar with the game of chess, Chess Ultra does come with tutorials that go through all of the basics, such as how to move or capture using different pieces, to explanations of notation, how to use castling or en passant, openers, and more. Learning chess via a number of in-game tutorials can be a Tal order on beginners, but Chess Ultra breaks down numerous strategies that, while you won’t become a grandmaster overnight, can definitely provide a solid base of instruction if you’re using this game to break your chess cherry. The game won’t exactly teach you specifically how to make Luft, not war, but it’s a reasonable starting point.
Four different environments are available as backdrops in Chess Ultra- from a cozy looking manor to the pits of chess hell, itself. Each setting is beautifully displayed in extensive detail that players can see by adjusting the camera dynamically around the board. Players can also select the type of pieces and the skins, or materials, that the pieces on the board use to match your preferred visual style. As far as actually playing chess goes, there are ten difficulty settings available to make the game most accessible to players of all capabilities: The lowest setting plays like a novice, making plentiful mistakes that can be taken advantage of throughout a match. The highest setting, however, brutally punishes any error in counteracting the its strategy (it pales in comparison to an ELO 2,500 human, but its pretty formidable if you’re the average ELO 1,600 player).
Players are able to play with AI opponents (as mentioned by the settings above), against friends locally and online, and also against opponents on other gaming platforms, entirely, as Chess Ultra supports cross-platform play. You can play real-time matches against live opponents or, if you prefer, can play correspondence where each player makes a move every 24 hours, or even without a time limit at all (handy if playing with a friend you can message and taunt occasionally). Other timers are available as well, such as the 45 minute Standard, 30 minute Fischer, and 5 minute Blitz timer that marries quick thinking and dexterity together. Horsing around with your knights has never been easier, though it did take some time to get a real time online match going, but correspondence chess is remarkably available and you can have multiple games in progress simultaneously (up to six).
Practice makes perfect in all things, especially a complex game like chess, which is why it is beneficial that there are 80 challenge puzzles that players can use to sharpen your skills. Some of the puzzles task you with recreating historic chess matches, emulating the closing moves of chess professionals. Mimicking the closing moves of a young grandmaster like Bobby Fischer is incredibly impressive, making up the most rewarding but difficult challenge in the entire game. Other puzzles require you to checkmate the opponent in a specific number of moves and also provide quite the insight to some mid game board states, with Mate in 1 puzzles being the easiest to recognize the winning move and Mate in 7 being the most difficult, requiring substantial knowledge of mid and closing game board states.
The graphics are quite solid for a chess simulation game: Pieces are expertly rendered and everything is textured in realistic, visually appealing ways. With something as simple as chess, it’s nice to know you’ll have something decent to look at while waiting for your opponents to finally make their move. The soundtrack features a number of beautiful songs that add a rich ambiance to the game, as the classical tones of masterpieces like Ave Maria will eliminate the furrowed brow you developed from trying to dig yourself out of check. The game has a very pleasing, calm appeal.
So, overall: For those not wanting to get rooked, Chess Ultra is quite a nice chess game. It has a variety of features, cross-platform online play, and a very crisp and clean aesthetic, not to mention its many customization options and plenty of challenges to keep a grandmaster-in-training busy for a time. Is Chess Ultra worth it for someone not interested in chess or games regarding chess? No, it’s not. This is a chess game and isn’t exactly going to do a whole lot to pull in people who aren’t interested. For those who are interested in chess, are willing to learn how to play or improve their game? Chess Ultra is probably one of the better starting points you could have in the medium the obvious best being to play with people in a social environment, where you could be taught and communicate questions about strategy and the like. Chess Ultra does one thing and does it extremely well; if you’re already interested in chess then this is a safe investment.