Review: Chess Ultra (PS4/PSVR)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC
  • Oculus Rift
  • HTC Vive

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • PlayStation VR Optional
  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move Optional (1/2)
  • Nav Controller Optional (1)
Title: Chess Ultra
Format: PSN (2.4 GB)
Release Date: June 20, 2017
Publisher: Ripstone
Developer: Ripstone
Original MSRP: $12.99 (US), €12.99 (EU), £9.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E
PEGI: 3
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

My skill level at Chess is quite low. I know how to play the game for the most part. I probably win about half of the matches I play so can’t be that bad I suppose, although some of those were against my seven-year old daughter.

Gameplay:
What makes Chess Ultra so good is not that it has ten Grandmaster approved AI levels, nor that you have comprehensive time controls, including Classical, Blitz, and Marathon, it is simply that you can play against Death. Yes, the Grim Reaper himself, Mort, Śmierć, or whatever name you might have for the unearthly personification.

Now I should point out that it is only when using PlayStation VR that players can face-off against the Grim Reaper in the pits of Gomorrah as any other location has no visual opponent. The entire game is playable in VR yet it is not advertised or mentioned at all. Don’t be ashamed of it Ripstone, it’s a great feature that works really well.

When playing against the A.I. you can set the difficulty level of the computer based on Arpad Elo’s ranking system and, with any luck, slowly improve your own Elo rank. Anyone new to the game of Chess should welcome the inclusion of a detailed tutorial that everyone, including some skilled players, should take a look at.

With a piece selected you’re given all of its possible move locations highlighted with a nice soft blue allowing you to see an easy visual representation of your options. This makes it easier for any player to learn the game and understand what each piece can do.

You can jump into some old classic matches and see how you can cope with the last few moves. There are also tournaments to compete in, like an official one by Ripstone or one of your own creation between friends or random opponents.

… the graphics are very detailed and crisp …
You can control the game via the usual DualShock 4 method or grab one or two Move controllers if you are playing in VR. The corresponding amount of mannequin hands appear and you simply press and hold the Trigger to grab and move a piece.

Sadly you cannot interact with anything else in the environment, the car keys and laptop nearby are purely for show.

Some other games in this genre also feature the popular game of Checkers and I was expecting this to include it too. Sadly it does not. It even has the pieces, just not the game.

Visuals:
If you’re playing in VR Chess Ultra loses a bit of polish and shine, but it still looks great. The freedom of movement allows you to peer at the board in a more natural way, which can be slightly unsettling when you have Death sat opposite.

With his ominous black cloak and spindly bones, it can be mildly distracting to have him gaze upon your every move as if you are playing for something more than just fun.

I quite like being able to look all around the room in the virtual reality environment, but after one or two cursory glances there isn’t much going on and you soon get back to the game at hand.

What impressed me are the visuals on the big screen when you have the headset turned off, the graphics are very detailed and crisp. Sadly I cannot experience the majesty of Chess Ultra in all of its 4k beauty, but it still looks sublime in 1080p.

… the audio isn’t very important and truth be told, a little strange …
Audio:
What can I say, the audio and the music are both okay. But I didn’t come here to listen to some inconsequential ambient noises or a few mildly recognizable tracks. I came here to drink some tea and play some Chess, and I’ve just finished my tea.

Well to tell you the truth, I spilled it down my front as the headset got in the way, but I’ve got changed and by golly, I’m ready for some Chess.

What you might have gleaned from that nonsensical paragraph above is that the audio isn’t very important and truth be told, a little strange. You’ll hear wind whooshing through an open window, cars driving by, occasional footsteps, and a few other strange sounds dotted among a few pieces of music.

I personally just whip out my phone and put on the latest PS Nation podcast or Spotify while I play.

Online/Multiplayer:
You can play some local multiplayer using a single controller, jump online and play against a random similarly skilled opponent, or invite one of your friends to play. You can also request a rematch from one of your recent opponents.

The game features Cross-Platform play so you aren’t limited to just PS4 players. Although if you are hoping for a random online player, you might be waiting for a while, at least I was each time I tried. It could have been due to the time of day as I mostly checked during the hours when every normal person was at work.

Conclusion:
Chess Ultra prides itself on having Grandmaster approved A.I. and rightfully so. The game can test any skilled player. It also features an in-depth tutorial and great beginner difficulty levels so anyone can learn this strategic board game.

The option to play using the PlayStation VR headset is a welcome one but after a few games the novelty might wear off for some. I liked that you can play against Death and was hoping for one or two other opponents. The Grim Reaper is quite mellow too and I would have hoped for some rage when I won.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

PS4 Screens:

PS VR Screens:

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