Chess Ultra sets out to deliver a solid way to play chess as well as teach players the fundamentals of the legendary game. I am a Chess newbie, and I learned a lot through the tutorials presented within. I wish there were more to that end as I found it highly entertaining and interesting. I’ve always wanted to learn the game, but I’ve never had a tutor. I mean, I learned how each piece moves, and never forgot that. It’s the deeper things and setups that I’ve always had difficulty with. Chess Ultra helps with that, but it only goes so far. It looks like there will be DLC in the game, and the only thing I can think that would be is more tutorials and some cosmetic things. I’m hoping they have more lessons though.
Aside from the lessons, Chess Ultra offers a series of challenges based on historic matches as well as setups for checkmate in a number of moves. These are not easy and require a strong knowledge of the game in order to complete. The first historic one is the the last few moves of what is known as “The Immortal Game”, a match played in London between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky. There are 10 of these historic matches leading up to Bacrot vs Inarkiev in 2008. For a Chess nut, this stuff is likely pretty awesome to be able to experience first hand. Continuing from what I said earlier, these matches as well as the other challenges serve quite well to instruct players as to how to strategize in the game of Chess.
The other modes are simply single match and tournament. In either, you can set the pieces and stage as well as the timer type. Timers included are None, Blitz, Standard, Fischer, and Marathon where each player has 24 hours to make their move. Other options include who your opponent is. Here, we can play the computer and set its difficulty, play locally, play a random person online, play friends online, or play against someone you’ve played recently, also online. The piece options tend to be very basic wood designs with varying styles of the pieces. You can also change the colors of the pieces, but it seems like other than white and black, the only other option is red.
There’s little to say about a Chess game beyond how well it performs and the options within. Speaking to how well the game performs, it does well, provided that you’re connected to the internet. For some reason, the game tries to connect after every mode change, every move in challenge mode, and even after every move against the cpu in an offline match. I have voiced my concerns to the developers, and I suspect that there will be a patch shortly after release, but this is incredibly annoying for me as I was playing the game out in the boonies with no internet, and it was infuriating to try and get through a single match.
After releasing this review, I was asked how the game works in tabletop mode. Great question, Laurence! To answer this, if you take the Joy Con off the console, it assumes that one is Player 1 and the other is Player 2, and shifts to a top-down view. Each player should sit opposite one another when playing like this as the Player 2 Joy Con has it’s up/down controls reversed as if they were sitting at the “top” of the board facing down. If the Joy Con are connected, it assumes that you will be passing the console back and forth and reverts to its standard isometric view. When one player finalizes their move, it instantly shifts to the other player’s side. There is no animation, spinning the board or any theatrics. It’s really fast, and in fact, the other player’s piece is still being moved even after the screen shifts, it’s that fast. I hope this answers questions people may have had regarding the game’s viability in tabletop mode.
All told, the game does a really good job at informing the uninformed about Chess and its history. Turns are quick, and the animations are smooth. One thing I hate about digital board games is how they tend to slow down the process to a crawl, but that’s not the case here. In fact, it’s much faster to play this with a friend over than setting up a board and all the pieces. I appreciate that, and if you’re looking for a good Chess game on the Switch, this is it.