1500 years is a long old time.
There aren’t many games that you can play which are that old. But chess is one of them.
With skills passed down over the years and through the generations, it could be said that learning the art of the tactical game is something you’ll either grasp with two hands as a child, or find it passes you by forever. The advent of the videogame and subsequent demise of your traditional tabletop games, sees the proud history and tradition of this strategic masterpiece most definitely teetering on the edge of the abyss. At least in its original form.
Thankfully though, our modern gaming systems are more than powerful enough to deliver a chess experience which is just as good as the real thing. And Ripstone Studios obviously think they are the developers to take on the challenge of creating it.
After delving into the subject with Pure Chess a few years back, following that up with a much more recent Grandmaster Edition, Ripstone are back with another game that will appeal to all fans of chess. A game that pushes the visual boundaries to the nth degree, a game that grants both online and offline opportunities with the same deep experience.
A game like Chess Ultra.
As you would expect from a game with Ultra in the title, this is most definitely at the pinnacle of what can be done with a chess title. Yes, it’s still chess, and whether you have interest in it or not will depend entirely on how you feel about the real world game. But should you be a piece moving veteran, or just have an enthusiasm for learning the dark art, Chess Ultra delivers in spades.
In fact, should you be one of those newbies trying to understand the difference between a rook and a bishop, or can’t remember which squares a Knight can move to, then Chess Ultra is brilliant. Much of that is down to the rather awesome, hugely in-depth tutorial mode which walks you through things to ensure you have a thorough understanding. It’s quite possibly one of the deepest tutorials I’ve come across in a game and will be able to help out even the rawest player.
Obviously when you do decide to break out into the wide world of the single games or long-form tournaments, then much of the tactical side of things will be your own doing. But with Chess Ultra highlighting legal moves for you, even the greenest of the green will be able to keep up without too much hassle.
With the usual chess ELO system running things delightfully, ensuring that you’ve always got a reason to continue playing even when all is looking lost, and 10 levels of AI opponents all the way up to Grandmaster ready and willing for a battle whenever you fancy it, you’ll never feel left wanting by what Ripstone have delivered.
The single game mode is the bread and butter, and upon setting up a game you get the chance to customise options to your liking. There are only a few different locations for which you can place your chess board, and there are only really four different chess piece varieties too, but each one is well created and a joy to look at.
The chance to play against the AI, a local friend or an online stranger are all available and depending on your thought process at the time – and desire to see either a quick or slow game take hold – a variety of timers are present. With Blitz giving each player just five minutes for the entire match, the Fischer rules seeing additional precious seconds added each time a move is made, or a full-on marathon mode delivering the long game, the options available in Chess Ultra are pretty much as you would expect to find in a game that promises the best chess experience to date.
But it’s not only the single games that will draw you in and that’s because whilst it’s nice to be able to jump into one-off matches at any time, it is with the clever tournament structure where your longer term options will lay. You will of course have to then rely on the wonderful online world in order for this to work properly, and you should be aware that history proves that this isn’t a walk in the park, but with the inclusion of cross-platform play, should the tournament structures begin to fill, everything is in place that a strategic fan could wish for. It is however slightly disappointing to see no option to play through a tournament style series of matches against the AI – that really would have been the icing on the cake.
If the worst comes to the worst though, and you’re left struggling to fill your own 4, 8, 16 or 32 player tournaments, then at least you’ll be left safe in the knowledge that Ripstone have promised multiple official tournaments for all to compete in.
So the single game and tournament options are your go-to spots for proper chess action within Chess Ultra, but there are also a huge number of challenges put in place for you to test yourself with. Without a word of a lie, if you have these completed in anything less than a good few months then you really should be getting out there and challenging the real chess masters of this world. These scenario challenges will see you needing to solve the checkmate set ups that have been created by Ripstone, with anything from just the one move requirements, right up to the deeper ‘Mate in 7’ testers.
Lovingly, Ripstone have also thrown in the chance for you to play in some of the most historic matches of all time, dropping you deep into the action and leaving you to come out the other side unscathed. These are super tough, and even though I’ve got 30 years of chess playing experience behind me, have found these historic scenarios just a bit too difficult. Perhaps if I was a Grandmaster I may think otherwise, but it’s still great to just be able to read up on the back story behind how each scenario came about.
So there we have it. If you’re looking for an ultra chess experience, then Chess Ultra is it. It comes with enough options for every situation, and delivers quite possibly the best videogame version of the historic game yet.
But it’s not just the gameplay which pushes it to new heights. It’s also the visuals.
Whilst the audio is pretty much neither here nor there, visually, the environments you find your board in, and the chess pieces that are placed upon them are stunning. No matter which of the four piece styles you choose, or the few skins that they come with, they have all been delivered beautifully, allowing you to fully understand exactly which piece is which at all times. It’s also super simple to move your camera in and around the board to get the optimum look in order to show them off even more.
Strangely, just occasionally – and this really is just occasionally – a slight stutter will appear when you flick through the viewing angles at pace, but seeing as much of your time will be spent sitting behind your lines, planning your next course of action, you shouldn’t make too much of that.
I have to admit to also being slightly frustrated with finding my exact piece placement location, and although both the D-pad and thumbstick options work well in picking and moving your pieces on the board, I’d prefer to see a slightly more prominent outline around the intended target.
But on the whole, these are picky negatives which will rarely impact on your time with Chess Ultra. Simply put, if you’re in the market for a chess game, you’re not really going to find anything much better, especially if visuals are your thing.
If you’re not interested in chess though, then well, there’s not much more Ripstone can do to tempt you in… 1500 years of history isn’t going to help you now.