Chess, the undisputed game of kings. Among all competitive games there is none other that comes close to being as pure, and strategically challenging as it is. It has often been used as a reference to various real world conflicts including the conquering of nations, and warfare itself. It has even been used in quotes regarding wisdom, and other things of intellectual importance. As a former chess player I, myself have played various forms of the age old game including the traditional kind against real players as well as video game versions against AI controlled grandmasters, and even in the form of battle chess with animated fighting pieces. Over the years many game developers have taken a shot at making the perfect chess video game experience, and for a while "Chessmaster" has been that fine example of chess purity. With Ripstone joining the league of such developers I have to say that they tackled the enigma of chess quite well. Though their version of the game is simple in some respects, and limited in others it helps the player to rise from the lower ranks of understanding to grandmaster status through time spent in the offline, and online portions of "Chess Ultra". All in an easy to understand manner.
Chess ultra, as it were is a simple yet effective tool for learning chess that comes complete with various ways to hone your skills, and perfect your approach to the game. It has a fully fledged hands-on tutorial with textual instructions that are quite impressive, and easily understandable. It tackles everything from the basics of movement, and the importance of pieces to the middle game, and end game objectives. Allowing you to figure things out on your own while giving you just enough of a hint as to what needs to be done the tutorial that is included is good at what it sets out to do. Dare I say it, but this is one of the best, if not the best chess tutorials I've ever seen.
Beyond the tutorials you'll be able to further fine tune your skills with preset challenges in challenge mode. This includes ten part sections of objective focus including things such as single move checkmates. The preset setups get increasingly more difficult to discern, but in doing so it helps you to be able to better spot checkmate opportunities. Chess is all about careful moves, strategic positioning, sacrifice, the ultimate end goal of a checkmate, and the ability to see ahead in regards to what moves can and will be made after your own. In that respect Chess Ultra triumphs. Along with the checkmate challenges also come hands-on mock games of famous grandmaster tournaments where you begin from the start, and must complete the game as one of the competing grandmasters did. It allows you to see the game through the eyes of a professional, and better understand the game as said professional did. Prior to getting into one of these grandmaster matches you'll get to see the names of the players involved, and some detailed history on the matches in question. It adds light to a more obscure side of chess that not many players get to witness.
For those of you looking for singlplayer matches against the AI, or multiplayer matches against human opponents this game has some options in place just for that. In the singleplayer sense you can choose single match mode, and set the settings to your liking before going in. This includes difficulty settings ranging from casual to grandmaster. It also includes several different timer options, select board options of the graphical sort, and ranking, or Elo stats. In regards to graphical changes the board, background theme, and chess pieces come with about four options each. Things like a library, a museum, and a ruinous cave are included for the background settings. All of which is done up in an impressive display that is fitting of a new-gen console. The pieces, which also sport a look of realism ranging from a more traditional appearance to a checkers look, and even a more demonic or angelic set. With said piece options you also get material choices which range from jade to precious stones, and even color focused skins. I will say that the included graphics tweaks seemed limited, but were enough to impress. Along with the graphic presentation comes a noteworthy soundtrack that sticks to the classical side of things. There's opera, instrumental, and chorus based music to be enjoyed as you make your moves, and hopefully checkmate your opponent.
If you are looking to join the league of other knowledgeable chess players you'll be glad to know that Chess Ultra offers up a tournament mode in which you can join tournaments hosted by the developer. This is a purely online experience, and a somewhat seasonal/themed occurrence that takes full advantage of the game's cross-platform play. A detail I forgot to mention earlier in regards to the singleplayer match mode is that you also have access to a sort of ranked multiplayer that can be taken online, or even played locally. It is in this competitive side of the game where you get to really perfect what you've practiced. By winning your Elo score will rise along with your reputation as a competent chess player. You can challenge players again, and continue games later should they drag on for too long. The option to play online can, itself be changed to play only against PS4 players.
Touching back on the presentation details ...
The graphics, and soundtrack to Chess Ultra are top of the line, and I think Ripstone has done a great job staying true to chess without making it too much of an arcade-like experience. It does have it's flash, and flair, but the core game is the same old chess that has been played throughout the ages. As far as camera angles go the view in static is sort of top-down, and from behind, but can be turned partially to either side for a better view of the more obstructed pieces. My only complaint if any is that the camera doesn't allow for a full rotation, and is kind of stiff while snapping back when the angle isn't being adjusted with the right thumbstick. I should also mention that the board, and the movement of the pieces therein come with their own realistic sound effects.
The verdict ...
I really like what Ripstone has done with chess in Chess Ultra. Everything from the tutorial to the more challenging aspects was handled in an ease of access way. All with a quality presnetation in mind. It is clear that the developer wants to bring the game into the spotlight for players who have never really entertained the idea of mastering chess. For that reason alone I can really get behind what Ripstone is selling. Even with the camera angle issues, and limited graphical options the game as a whole is worthy of a purchase, in my personal opinion. I think Chess Ultra is a noteworthy contender among the library of the more well known chess video games. It gets all the important aspects of chess, and chess mastery right. Be sure to add it to your PS4 library if you fancy a true challenge! Do know that the game can be played on the original PS4, and PS4 Pro without the VR headset.
I got asked a question on my Youtube video pertaining to Chess Ultra's local mulitplayer game. As to whether or not it has split screen. The game basically flips the table view after each move, and requires that you swap a single controller between the two players. This keeps you from having to go through the process of connecting a 2nd controller via Playstation's awkward 2P setup.