Chess is one of the most pervasive board games there has ever been, and has been played in one iteration or another since somewhere around the 7th century. It’s a game that changed a lot over the years, and its rules as we see them today weren’t really solidified until the last two hundred years or so. Since the rise of the computer however, chess hasn’t changed too much. The rules have become both particular and stagnant, and this has led to a lot of chess games being similar – or at least having a similar play style.
It’s because of this standardization of the rules, and the fact that many chess games have honed and whittled down the nuances of playing on a computer of sorts, that Chess Ultra is a game that any previous chess player can simply pick up and play. This ease of access and use is both essential and welcoming in a game like this, and will let you know right off that this version of chess is one you’ll want to play more and more.
…but what about the non-chess players out there?
Well, new players are in luck here too. Chess Ultra includes tutorials that will teach you how the pieces move on the board and how to move them. It includes bits for all of the basic moves, but even includes instruction on more advanced tactics (like castling, en passant, or pawn promotion), and some basic strategies for opening and playing the game.
Once you’ve gotten the basics down – or if you are simply at the point of looking for a game – you can start a new match from the main menu. Choosing an empty slot (or deleting a past game and choosing that slot), you’ll then have to pick a location, piece look, and material for your piece – with random being an option via a little die icon. A second menu will offer options of colour/side (white starts first), game timer (including “none”), and opponent (computer, 2-player, online, friend, and recent being your options) – with additional bits coming up if you choose computer (like difficulty level of the AI) or friend (like who you want to play with).
Once you’ve jumped into a game you’ll play to the chosen rules and take turns with the opposing player. As with all games of chess you’ll play until someone is in checkmate, there’s a stalemate (the player can’t move without putting themselves in check), or someone forfeits – all standard fare for any chess game.
In addition to the standard gameplay bits in single game mode however, any match played will allow you to rewind and play from any part in the match onward – giving new players and those looking to learn from their mistakes the option to retroactively try again. It’s a useful option to have, though I didn’t find myself using it past the point of figuring out how it works.
The last thing of note regarding single play mode is that while games against the computer can be played rather quickly, the other options for an opponent may be more leisurely. Whenever you’re playing with someone who isn’t the AI, you’ll likely have to wait longer than a moment for them to make a move due to the fact that people think differently (and usually slower) than computers. Waiting for your opponent to move can last minutes, hours, days, or longer when playing with other people – so keep that in mind when jumping into a game with an opponent other than the AI.
You should also keep in mind that Chess Ultra supports local two player play in a way that’s executed in a pretty familiar way. You can lay the Switch on the table and play end-to-end with a single Joy-Con each, making for a fairly traditional chess experience anywhere you go (no physical board and pieces required)! It’s notable that I had to do some trial and error to get two player play to work properly – figuring out in the end that I had to start a game with a single Joy-Con or controller attached in order to get the right assignment going. It didn’t ruin the experience, but it’s not as user friendly as some other titles I’ve played with split Joy-Con.
The other bits that fill out the gameplay options are the tournament and challenge options. Tournament has you creating a game of elimination, or participating in an official one from the developers – looking to compete on a mass scale and over time. In contrast, challenge has you taking on a specific scenario instead; reliving historic match-ups between famous chess players, or participating in “Mate in X” puzzles (where “X” is a number between one and seven).
These modes offer bits of chess beyond the standard styles of play, and will certainly give you some good experiences with which to bolster your skills, but are obviously much less traditional play options than most are used to. Many people have never played in a chess tournament, or took on any sort of chess challenge other than traditional one-on-one play, and so I see them likely looking more like welcome options than core gameplay modes.
Since most of the gameplay and options in Chess Ultra may remind you a lot of playing actual, physical chess however, it’s no real surprise that the graphical prowess of the game approaches that idea as well. With rather high brow looking environments and chess sets, Ripstone’s latest version does well to look like real locations you might find people playing the game. If you get your hands on this one, you’ll be playing a pretty sharp looking version of one the most classic board games ever made; and that’s nothing to scoff at.
Likewise, the audio has a rather high brow air about it as well. Utilizing classical music as the main audio hook, you’ll be immediately pulled into the posh theme this game has going… if you’ve got the volume up. Playing with the volume down – in complete silence – is always an option as well, so if you prefer your games of chess a bit more traditional then you’re in luck.
Speaking of being in luck, I’m thankful of mine – and that I’ve finally got a version of chess that I can both easily take with me and use in so many different ways. At this point in my life I don’t have many people around who play chess, so being able to jump into a game (either alone or otherwise) is a welcome option indeed. It helps too that the game is solid in its execution, with moves and options working just as you’d expect when coming from past releases of software chess games.
Beginner looking to learn or chess master looking for some real competition alike, there’s lots to like about Chess Ultra on Nintendo Switch – including the price of admission. If you’re looking for the absolute best version of this great pastime, you may well have found it.